As nonfiction increasingly verges on novelistic narrative and fiction continues to draw inspiration from “real life”...

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REALITY HUNGER

A MANIFESTO

The subtitle of David Shields’ Reality Hunger categorizes it as “a manifesto,” which is a little like calling a nuclear bomb “a weapon.” In a series of numbered paragraphs, Shields explodes all sorts of categorical distinctions—between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, reality and perception. It’s a book designed to inspire and to infuriate, and it is sure to do both.

In an era of hip-hop sampling, James Frey, artistic collage and the funhouse mirror of so-called “reality TV,” Shields maintains that so many of the values underpinning cultural conventions are at best anachronisms and at worst lies. And he does so in audacious fashion, taking quotes from myriad sources, removing the quotation marks, attribution and context, leaving the reader to wonder what is original to Shields and what he has appropriated from others. “Anything that exists in the culture is fair game to assimilate into a new work,” writes Shields (or someone). He later explains his methodology: “Most of the passages in this book are taken from other sources. Nearly every passage I’ve clipped I’ve also revised, at least a little—for the sake of compression, consistency or whim.” The mash-up results in a coherent, compelling argument, a work of original criticism that consistently raises provocative questions about the medium it employs. It asks whether everything we know is provisional—and then asks who’s asking that question, or if such authorship even matters. At his publisher’s insistence, Shields includes an appendix of sources for each citation, but urges the reader not to consult it: “Your uncertainty about whose words you’ve just read is not a bug but a feature,” he insists. “A major focus of Reality Hunger is appropriation and plagiarism and what these terms mean. I can hardly treat the topic deeply without engaging in it.” Shields’ argument isn’t a lone howl from the wilderness. Novelist Jonathan Lethem employed a similar technique in his February 2007 essay for Harper’s (“The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism”). Bob Dylan’s recent releases have invited copyright sleuths to trace the origins of work he presents as original. The artist who bills himself as Girl Talk has built a musical career on aural appropriation kindred to Shields’.

As nonfiction increasingly verges on novelistic narrative and fiction continues to draw inspiration from “real life” (whatever that is), as computer technology makes cut-and-paste far easier than William Burroughs ever imagined, as the same image of Barack Obama informs both Shepard Fairey’s art and an AP photographer’s journalism (“a watershed moment for appropriation art,” according to Shields), the formerly firm foundations of ethical distinctions find themselves crumbling. Or were those foundations ever as firm as we believed? “ ‘Fiction’/‘nonfiction’ ” is an utterly useless distinction,” states Reality Hunger. How so? “An awful lot of fiction is immensely autobiographical, and a lot of nonfiction is highly imagined. We dream ourselves awake every minute of the day.”

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-27353-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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