Don’t Buy This Book — Just Read It
I’ve mentioned David Foster Wallace on my blog before. I quickly decided that I needed to read more of his works after reading A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and This is Water was my second DFW experience. I was at Borders this past Friday night and I wanted to kill some time, so I picked up this small hardcover off the shelf. I had read some reviews on Amazon saying it was a ripoff, since it was just a speech put into book form, so it seemed like the perfect way to spend ten minutes sitting on a comfy leather chair in Borders.
I didn’t realize the book gave each and every sentence its own page, stretching out a speech to 150 pages, but once I started reading, it made some sense. The format forces you to take your time and pause when Wallace paused, allowing you to digest each and every word he originally spoke at Kenyon College’s Commencement in 2005.
Maybe it’s a bit harsh to call the book a money grab (as I do if you scroll and hold your mouse over the book pic), but it’s hard to justify spending $10 on it, nevermind the $15 Borders was charging for it. But the content is great, and it does almost seem like a perfect college graduation gift. I guess I would just write the URL of a site with the speech inside a card instead of buying this posthumous publication.
Wallace talks about “learning to think” and how it’s easy to default to the natural setting of our brains when we have to deal with the day in, day out world. How it’s easy to hate everyone around you when you’re stuck in traffic or the line at the grocery store. How it’s easy to not think about anyone else’s life because we are, in fact, the center of our lives. How it’s easy to worship money or beauty or power.
“Learning to think” is somehow changing your default-setting to deal with the mundaneness and pettiness and frustrations of everyday adult life without going mad. And the saddest part is that Wallace never was quite able to do it himself. He says:
None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.
He didn’t make it to 50 (he didn’t shoot himself in the head, at least, though). But it doesn’t make his message any less powerful or true. As in the link to the speech I already included in the post, I’ll quote this sentence:
The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
I guess I’ll end with that. I don’t want you wasting time reading this post instead of the speech.