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by David Shields

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-96152-5
Publisher: Knopf

Essayist and fiction writer Shields (Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, 2010, etc.) turns quotation, memory, anecdotes and considerations of film, literature, love and death into a collage that enables introspection. 

The author, who stuttered throughout childhood, initially regarded writing as an ideal outlet; now, in his mid-50s, he writes “to feel as if, to the degree anyone can know anyone else,” he has connected with his readers. With a frequently self-deprecating yet engaging tone, the author employs the act of accrual in hopes of guarding against “human loneliness,” and in doing so, creates a personal, modern version of the medieval commonplace book. For the bibliophile, references to authors such as Ben Lerner, E.M. Cioran, Jonathan Safran Foer, Annie Dillard, Sarah Manguso and David Foster Wallace, among others, will appeal as voices intersecting on the page. For fellow creative-writing practitioners, how Shield fashions his own anxieties and persona into brief essays provides an alternative model for writing on selfhood, revealing the author’s struggle in oblique ways. Concerned as much with methods of construction and questions of genre as with subject, Shields meters out nuggets of revelation amid explications of both classical and popular subjects, from Prometheus to Spider-Man. The author’s circuitous approach may frustrate some readers. However, it is the sometimes-failed attempts to articulate the ways in which "life and art have always been everything" to him that prove fascinating. The book defies easy categorization (as have others of Shields’ works): It is both a paean to the power of language and a confrontation with the knowledge that literature can't, after all, fulfill deeper existential needs.

A work of contradictions, subversions, depression, humor and singular awareness; Shields is at his finest when culling the work of others to arrive at his own well-timed, often heartbreaking lines.