The Backstory Behind David Foster Wallace’s Famous Commencement Speech

Sam Levine, writing for The Huffington Post:

David Foster Wallace wanted to know who had thought bringing him to Kenyon College to deliver its commencement address was a good idea.

Meredith Farmer, an English and philosophy double major in the class of 2005, nervously claimed responsibility.  

“Go fuck yourself,” Wallace told her. “Fuck you.”

As a famous embracer of cliche, D.F.W. would appreciate the fact that the only way the 'This is Water' speech can be described now is by saying that is has "taken on a life of its own."

/via The Howling Fantods


Review of ‘Almost Famous Women’ on ‘Fresh Air’

Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air:

The concern with a collection like this one is that it's going to be continually genuflecting before these women, turning those who were only historical footnotes into minor female deities and sacrificing complexity for reverence. It turns out, though, that author Megan Mayhew Bergman is not just a worshipper.

As a Fresh Air listener, and as a writer, I pay particularly close attention to Corrigan’s book reviews. I couldn’t help but be downright giddy to hear that my friend’s new book a. got a review and b. got such a terrific review. You should read Megan’s stuff because she’s a great writer, sure, but also because she’s one of the nicest people I’ve met in the writing world. After you listen to the review, why not buy the book?


The New ‘New Yorker’ Website and Some Article Recommendations

The New Yorker Editors:

This week, has a new look. On a desktop, on a tablet, on a phone, the site has become, we believe, much easier to navigate and read, much richer in its offerings, and a great deal more attractive. For months, our editorial and tech teams have been sardined into a boiler room, subsisting only on stale cheese sandwiches and a rationed supply of tap water, working without complaint on intricate questions of design, functionality, access, and what is so clinically called “the user experience.

Big improvement. Looks great. And you can still get the comfortingly annoying “Enjoy The New Yorker” ad by hovering over the red ‘subscribe’ menu item. Oh, but wait—there’s more:

Beginning this week, absolutely everything new that we publish—the work in the print magazine and the work published online only—will be unlocked. All of it, for everyone. Call it a summer-long free-for-all. Non-subscribers will get a chance to explore The New Yorker fully and freely, just as subscribers always have. Then, in the fall, we move to a second phase, implementing an easier-to-use, logical, metered paywall. Subscribers will continue to have access to everything; non-subscribers will be able to read a limited number of pieces—and then it’s up to them to subscribe. You’ve likely seen this system elsewhere—at the Times, for instance—and we will do all we can to make it work seamlessly.

Wow. I’d like to think of this of generosity, but I don’t know—doesn’t sound like the business model of a thriving, successful magazine. Anyway, take advantage. Because you weren’t far enough behind on your New Yorker pile anyway, here’s, via, Longform’s 25 Favorite Unlocked New Yorker Articles.



The Introduction to ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ (Weekend Reading)

Thomas Piketty:

Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. It is of interest to everyone, and that is a good thing. The concrete, physical reality of inequality is visible to the naked eye and naturally inspires sharp but contradictory political judgments. Peasant and noble, worker and factory owner, waiter and banker: each has his or her own unique vantage point and sees important aspects of how other people live and what relations of power and domination exist between social groups, and these observations shape each person’s judgment of what is and is not just. Hence there will always be a fundamentally subjective and psychological dimension to inequality, which inevitably gives rise to political conflict that no purportedly scientific analysis can alleviate. Democracy will never be supplanted by a republic of experts—and that is a very good thing.

A Republic of Experts—if there’s a better way to describe our current state of social and economic affairs, I don’t know what it is.

Anyway, Piketty’s book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” is what all of the cool kids are reading right now (and by ‘reading’ I mean ‘listening to people discuss on podcasts and NPR’) and I’ve been looking for an excuse to convince myself that I need to read it too.

If you’re on the edge, reading the Introduction is the way to go—from what I understand, the book proper is denser, but if you can make heads or tails of the Intro, you should be able to make it through. And if you’re still reading this, you will probably enjoy the Intro. Once I finish Roxane Gay’s new novel, I’m going to take the plunge. Or maybe I’ll save it for vacation, because, you know, what better time to declare that, “Intellectual and political debate about the distribution of wealth has long been based on an abundance of prejudice and a paucity of fact,” than while you’re sitting on the beach with your family.


‘…his day to try to glue what was left of his mind back together.’

Sven Birkerts, writing for Electric Literature:

Then I read. I took myself away from the desk. I found a private place with decent light and no phone; I did whatever one does to narrow the beam of attention down from wide-angle receptivity to full-on focus. And I made my way into a density that was, at every step, forbidding—those sentences, the micro-obsessiveness of the narrating voice, the slow unfolding of suggestive implication that Henry James, title-holder in this category, would have applauded. There was no question. This was top-drawer DFW, completely sui generis.

Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading pick for this week is David Foster Wallace’s “The Soul is Not a Smithy,” originally published in AGNI and then collected in Oblivion. You can read it for free on E.L.’s site, or you can drop $0.99 there on a Kindle or ePub edition. Either way, especially for those snowed-in today, this is a great read.


On Newtown: Poet Yusef Komunyakaa

Rock Me, Mercy

The river stones are listening because we have something to say.
The trees lean closer today.
The singing in the electrical woods has gone down.
It looks like rain, because it is too warm to snow.
Guardian angels,
Wherever you’re hiding, we know you can’t be everywhere at once.
Have you corralled all the pretty wild horses?
The memory of ants asleep and day lilies, roses, holly and larkspur?
The magpies gaze at us, still waiting.
River stones are listening.
But all we can say now is mercy, please rock me.

-Written in Mourning by Yusef Komunyakaa

/via All Things Considered

/poem transcription via Pearls and Revolution


Read Literary Fiction; Become a Better Person

Pam Belluck, writing for the New York Times' 'Well' blog

[a study published Thursday in Science] found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

She goes on to write: 

The idea that what we read might influence our social and emotional skills is not new. Previous studies have correlated various types of reading with empathy and sensitivity. More recently, in a field called “theory of mind,” scientists have used emotional intelligence perception tests to study, for example, children with autism.
But psychologists and other experts said the new study was powerful because it suggested a direct effect — quantifiable by measuring how many right and wrong answers people got on the tests — from reading literature for only a few minutes.

Good thing my debut novel, Whitney, which comes out tomorrow, is literary fiction. Buy it; read it; watch your life improve. 

/via Lifehacker