You know the story about the boy who cried wolf, right? Well, it applies to funny people too. If someone does nothing but tell jokes, how do you know when they're being serious? And since postmodernism seems to be one elaborate joke, where does that leave David Foster Wallace and This is Water
If you're familiar with Merlin Mann, so much of his productivity message has to do with actually doing stuff
. You can have 27 priorities right now, but until you define what your priorities are (and what a priority really is), you haven't done anything. Productivity is another popular buzzword—you could spend days "optimizing your workflow to promote interdepartmental synergy" and not actually do anything
. At the end of the day, productivity or priorities aren't your saviour; you getting off your butt and getting work done is.
David Foster Wallace's speech, which has been adapted and put to paper (and so much of it) in this book, sometimes falls prey to this words-but-no-meaning trap. Some parts are good (cf. everybody believes in something), but in order for his New Sincerity message to become a reality, you have to take his pretty-sounding sentences and actually do something meaningful with them. One would think Wallace would have provided us with these tools, being one of the more respected authors out there, but no one book can answer all of life's questions, I suppose.
The other turn-off about This is Water
is the formatting. Much has been made of this on Goodreads already, but the complaints really are accurate: this book is a waste of paper. The whole thing was a 15-minute-long commencement address. Did it need this treatment? Maybe for the DFW completionists in the world. I'll take an MP3 of the talk any day over this though.