Review: This Is Water, by David Foster Wallace.
So, we commence with Little, Brown’s milking of David Foster Wallace’s catalog for anything they can get the rights to. When I learned of DFW’s demise in September, I was severly bummed out, and did what I’m sure a lot of people did, which was go out and grab something of his that they didn’t have yet. I picked up Consider The Lobster Audiobook on iTunes. I had actually just finished the book, and it was so weird to hear his voice, in light of what happened. I also then went around and grabbed all the extra DFW non-anothology articles that he published and have been working on what’s almost a shrine of his stuff (just collecting on the computer everything you can’t get in book form). During which one of the first things I wound up reading was his Commencement Speech from Kenyon College. It was fairly short, and I read it on the 10 minute busride from my apartment to my office. It was the second favourite non-book thing I’ve read by him to date, the first being an article about Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Then I subsequently heard about this This Is Water project. I saw on amazon that it was going to be about 120 pages, and thought maybe Little, Brown was beating me to the punch and going to release this whole compiled mess, and that the Kenyon thing was a part of it.
Fast forward to ~1 month before release. The guy on The Howling Fantods! Website got an advance copy or something and he showed a few pictures of the book. My first gulp! was that the physical dimensions of the book are very small, it’s roughly the size of my hand (official dimensions: 6.8 inches by 4.8 inches). The book was also to include only one sentence of the speech per page, i.e. ~75% of each page would be blank. With thoughts of boycotting this bastardization of DFW and milking him for all he’s worth running through my head, the inner-completist quickly put this to an end and I pre-ordered my copy from the local bookstore.
Fast Forward to 09 April 2009. I happened to be walking past said bookstore this morning and trapsed in to find that they had gotten copies of the book in early, and my copy was waiting for me. I wound up sitting outside and finishing it about 10-15 minutes. I was surprised how nicely the physical reading flowed. Despite constantly flipping pages, this format suits the transcription very well. It forces you to pause and not just race through the sentences. It almost reads like a children’s book, with so little on each page.
As with all of the DFW I’ve read, this didn’t disappoint (even though I’d already read it once). Unbelievably, my conversion to be a supporter of this format leads me to believe that Little, Brown, albeit obviously looking to make money, as they are a business, seem to care quite a bit about the preparation and presentation of the finite amount of what we have left from DFW.
Footnote: I want to call him David here but I refuse because I never met him and don’t want to be one of those people who refers to Dave Matthews as “Dave” even though the person on the flipside of the coin have never even met we the speakers nor know our names.
I know that reading someone’s writing can make you feel closer to someone you’ve never met than someone you actually know, because this is exactly how reading every word of his writing makes me feel. I get a tight feeling in my chest and my nerves feel all jiggly. I feel like I’ve lost a friend and that makes me feel weird because I’m sure if I died he wouldn’t feel that way. Why would he?