Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography

Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography

by David Shields

Enough About You is a book about David Shields. But it is also a terrifically engrossing exploration and exploitation of self-reflection, self-absorption, full-blown narcissism, and the impulse to write about oneself.

In a world awash with memoirs and tell-alls, Shields has created something unique: he invites the reader into his mind as he turns

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Enough About You is a book about David Shields. But it is also a terrifically engrossing exploration and exploitation of self-reflection, self-absorption, full-blown narcissism, and the impulse to write about oneself.

In a world awash with memoirs and tell-alls, Shields has created something unique: he invites the reader into his mind as he turns his life into a narrative. With moving and often hilarious candor, Shields ruminates on a variety of subjects, all while exploring the impulse to confess, to use oneself as an autobiographical subject, to make one's life into a work of art.

Shields explores the connections between fiction and nonfiction, stuttering and writing, literary forms and literary contents; art and life; he confronts bad reviews of his earlier books; he examines why he read his college girlfriend's journal; he raids a wide range of cultural figures (from Rousseau, Nabokov, and Salinger to Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, and Bobby Knight) for what they have to tell him about himself; he quotes a speech he wrote on the occasion of his father's ninetieth birthday and then gives us the guilt-induced dream he had when he failed to deliver the speech; he also writes about basketball and sexuality and Los Angeles and Seattle, but he is always meditating on the origins of his interest in autobiography, on the limits and appeals of autobiography, on the traps and strategies of it, and finally how to use it to get to the world.

The result is a collection of poetically charged self-reflections which reveal deep truths about ourselves as well.

About the Author

David Shields is the author of two novels, Dead Languages and Heroes; a collection of linked stories, A Handbook for Drowning; and three previous works of nonfiction, Baseball Is Just Baseball : The Understated Ichiro, Remote (winner of the PEN/Revson Foundation Fellowship), and Black Planet (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award).

He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is a professor in the English department at the University of Washington.

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Editorial Reviews

"Novelist and cultural commentator Shields (the nonfictional Black Planet, 1999, etc.) explores 'his own damned, doomed character' in this plum collection of vignettes. What he's trying to get at in these pages is the mystery of identity, cutting to the bone as he explores the 'impulse to write autobiographically, to turn oneself into one's subject.' It's reflective work, and grueling, but Shields is comfortable in the world of words; he has 'trouble living anywhere other than language,' believing like Rousseau that 'perception is enhanced by temporal and psychic distance, that memory produces illuminations which observation didn't.' He is also acutely aware, as basketball coach Bobby Knight has said, that 'all of use lean to write by the second grade, then most of us go on to other things.' These short bursts of self-revelation have both precise and riffing qualities: Shields will nimbly and coolly pick apart just how and why he botched a romance or manipulated his assistant editor on the high-school paper, then just as nimbly he'll encapsulate how his father helped shape his life: 'to not accept accepted wisdom, to insist on my own angle, to view language as a playground, and a playground as bliss.' The monkey bars led him to sports, where he found refuge from his stutter and felt the joy of being alive. Then he stopped playing after an' life." His fallback is writing, and like one of his characters, 'he wants gorgeous written language to be a revenge upon the Babel of his spoken language.' Shields makes it easy to identify with his confusions and screw-ups and ambivalences, but his insightfulness and careful consideration are his canny talent. Gladdeningly inclusive, like a hug from Walt Whitman: declarative and fraught and good."
Dana Goodyear
These days, the self-reflection industry is booming, so much so that a new crop of meta-memoirs has begun to appear in stores. Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography (Simon & Schuster), by the novelist and essayist David Shields, is based on two puckish tenets: "What I ultimately believe in is talking about everything until you're blue in the face" and "If I'm not writing it down, experience doesn't really register." Shields's apologia for the genre is also a work of literary criticism, and, as he relates anecdotes about his stammer and embarrassing moments at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he considers the role of personal experience in books like Renata Adler's Speedboat and George W.S. Trow's Within the Context of No Context.
New Yorker
I fell in love with David Shields�s Remote when it appeared in 1996 for its hip, critifictional meditations on avant-pop irreality. What�s wonderful about Enough About You is much of the same I found wonderful about that earlier book: its richly, painfully conflicted simultaneous engagement with/distance from the media-sphere and thus the world, its sharp and eccentric and ultimately revealing readings of everything from Renata Adler to Bill Murray and back again by way of basketball, some paragraphs to simply die for. What separates Enough About You from Remote, unless maybe I remember Remote wrong after all these years away from it, is how Enough About You moves through the self, the self�s remoteness, in an attempt to reestablish connection by means of its trope that �I am you. We�re all just us.
Caf� Zeitgeist
Shields turns out a series of uncommon and provocative discussions about what it�s like to play, to watch, to be watched, to be judged, to feel weak, to feel strong, and to not quite know what to feel.
Internet Book Information
The very act of autobiography makes for the motor of one of the most unique, intriguing, and entertaining memoirs in recent memory. David Shields�s Enough About You is about David Shields, but even more than that, it�s about David Shields writing about David Shields. In a style that�s funny and fresh, matchless and moving, he discourses on subject literary and personal, offering sparkling anecdotes from his life and engaging ruminations on others, all borne along by a bubbling undercurrent of interest in life stories, why we tell them, and the ways we do.
At the end of 23 chapters, this compact 174-page book resembles an inward-gazing kaleidoscope. However, it avoids what you might expect from self-obsessed writing. It�s not teenage-diary solipsism, as Shields�s writing style is upbeat, sometimes even funny, and he�s not interested in getting to the bottom of his feelings. Also, Enough About You is not navel-gazing, because he writes about himself through writing about sports, books, Seattle, etc. Shields is at once self-obsessed and fully engaged in the world around him. Ultimately, this thoroughly indulged self-consciousness places one comfortably into the world.
The Stranger
Robert Birnbaum
Enough About You is a collage of 22 ruminations on the impulse to write about oneself. These pieces cover a wide territory yet manage to zero in on the appeals and limits of the memoiristic gesture.
Identity Theory
Joy Press
Confessing our life stories has become a national tic; people divulge secrets so easily that their monologues pile up in a heap like discarded layers of skin. Enough About You attempts to move beyond those self-created mythologies we save for first dates and talk show appearances. Shields wants to capture the lumps in our throats, the ambivalences and misconnections we don�t know how to express. David Shields uses gimmicks and sidelong glances to catch the truth with its pants down. As with fellow creative nonfictioneers Hilton Als and Bernard Cooper, his graceful prose makes a meal of ephemera�.Enough About You is a veritable infarct of narrative cloggers, not that there�s anything wrong with that. It exudes a razor-edged, sad-sack sensibility that�s hard to resist�like Jerry Seinfeld crossed with Lydia Davis or Maurice Blanchot�.There�s something lumpy in the batter that makes Enough About You feel wrong: clunky paragraphs couched within brilliant ones, textual repetitions and strained examples, a book cover illustrated with dozens of miniature photos of the author spanning childhood to middle age. Shields seems to pursue this wrongness in the hope that it will knock his autopilot out of whack long enough to reveal something hidden and startling. If we can hold our impatience at bay, the technique works, provoking the reader to rethink the clumps of chronological data that pass for biography, so inadequate to convey the slippery slopes of a human life. Somehow David Shields� wrongs do add up to a right.
Village Voice
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
This alter ego, this exaggerated "David Shields," serves as a way to explore our relation to pop culture. When he's deifying Bill Murray or Gary Payton or Ichiro (Shields' previous book was a collection of Zen-like quotes from the Mariners right fielder) what's really at work is an effort to crack open our obsession with celebrity.
Shields' ability to weave a coherent and rather likable voice - ironic, self-implicating, blackly funny, hopeful - through these disjointed passages is impressive.
Shields -- whose style is startling in its clarity and candor -- throws the reader off balance with this slim volume of essays.
Austin American Statesman
Enough About You succeeds, barely at times, in embodying the contradictions that Shields loves so much.
In this witty study of the art of the memoir, Shields simultaneously explores the events of his own life and the impulse to do such a thing in print, for public consumption.
Publishers Weekly
Although its subtitle promises a bold and exotic journey through introspection, this somewhat rambling, definitely disorganized work could more appropriately be called "Musings in Partial Autobiography." Novelist and nonfiction writer Shields (Heroes; Black Planet; etc.) delivers a combination of invention and confession, telling his life story in snippets and half-remembered moments. He travels from one subject to another, skimming the surface of his life like an indifferent water bug. Some essays are steeped in standard autobiographical technique, as when he gains insight from memories of being a jerk at his high school newspaper's office, while others use a kind of free association, allowing Shields to discuss his favorite books without revealing too much of his feelings. In the introduction, he states that he wants to explore his own doomed character; he wants to cut to the absolute bone: "Everything else seems like so much gimmickry." But despite his sharp, excellent writing, there isn't a glimpse of bone here; there's barely even blood drawn. Shields succeeds in examining autobiography itself as a genre, sizing it up with an almost scholarly perspective, but in terms of his own life, he presents few details and then implies that even those may be fabricated or poorly remembered. Those who have come to appreciate Shields's fine writing will enjoy his thoughts on Bill Murray, Nabokov and Adam Sandler, but those seeking true adventure in autobiography should travel elsewhere. Agent, Henry Dunow. (May 2) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The author of two nonfiction works (including Black Planet, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award), Shields here puts a twist on his talents by turning to the subject of autobiography and memoir. At a time when publication in this genre is almost overwhelming, Shields has done something different. While this book is certainly about him, it is also much more; Shields lets us into his mind and turns his life into a narrative, with each short chapter working as a snapshot of his life and related subjects. For instance, the reader is treated to intimate and humorous details of relationships he had with two women, Rebecca and Rachel. He also explores such subjects as sex, literary criticism, family, and even actor Bill Murray. In doing so, Shields examines the impulse to write about our experiences, turning our lives into works of art. Shields pulls this off with candor and grace to such an extent that we can see ourselves shining through. Recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/02.] Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.76(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: In Praise of Reality

And I shall essay to be.

— Emerson

Standard operating procedure for fiction writers is to disavow any but the most insignificant link between the life lived and the novel written; similarly, for nonfiction writers, the main impulse is to insist upon the unassailable verisimilitude of the book they've produced. I've written three books of fiction and three books of nonfiction, and whenever I'm discussing the supposed reality of a work of nonfiction, I inevitably (and rapidly) move the conversation over to a contemplation of the ways in which I've fudged facts, exaggerated my emotions, cast myself as a symbolic figure, and invented freely. So, too, whenever anyone asks me about the origins of a work of fiction, I always forget to say, "I made it all up," and instead start talking about, for lack of a better term, real life.

Both of my parents were journalists. For many years my mother was the West Coast correspondent for the Nation. My father, now ninety, wrote for dozens of left-wing publications and organizations and for the last twenty years has been a sports reporter for a weekly newspaper in suburban San Francisco. "The true poem," my father likes to say, quoting Walt Whitman, "is the daily paper." When I was growing up, the New York Times was air-mailed to our house every day. Mornings, I would frequently find on the kitchen counter an article neatly scissored out of the Times for me to read as a model of journalistic something or other. (Actually, I may have made this detail up, but it sounds right, it feels right, maybe it happened once; I'm going to leave it in.) I was the editor of my junior high school newspaper. I was the editor of my high school newspaper. Woodward and Bernstein were my heroes. My parents' heroes, interestingly enough, weren't journalists but what they called "real writers": Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow.

My father stammered slightly, and in the verbal hothouse that was our family (dinner-table conversations always felt like a newsroom at deadline), I took his halting speech and turned it into a full-blown stutter. My stutter not only qualified any ambition I might have had to become a journalist — I couldn't imagine how I'd ever be able to imitate my mother's acquaintance Daniel Schorr and confidently ask a question at a presidential press conference — but also made me, in general, wary of any too direct discourse. In graduate school, when I studied deconstruction, it all seemed very self-evident. Language as self-canceling reverb that is always only communicating itself? I knew this from the inside out since I was six years old. In a stutterer's mind and mouth, everything is up for grabs.

I have a very vivid memory of being assigned to read The Grapes of Wrath as a junior in high school and playing hooky from my homework to read Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. Steinbeck's humorlessness, sentimentality, and sledgehammer symbolism hardly had a chance against Hunter Thompson's comedy, nihilism, and free association. I loved how easily Fear and Loathing mixed reportage or pseudo-reportage with glimmers of memoir. My sister and I had a rather fierce debate about the authenticity of a scene in which Thompson has a conversation with Richard Nixon at an adjoining urinal. She wrote to Thompson to ask him which of us was right. I was wrong; he called me a "pencil-necked geek" for thinking the scene had been invented.

During freshman orientation, I joined the Brown Daily Herald, but by February I'd quit — or perhaps I was fired — when there was a big brouhaha surrounding the fact that I'd made stuff up. I started spending long hours in the Marxist bookstore just off campus, reading and eating my lunch bought at McDonald's; I loved slurping coffee milkshakes while reading and rereading Sartre's The Words. I closed the library nearly every night for four years; at the end of one particularly productive work session, I actually scratched into the concrete wall above my carrel, "I shall dethrone Shakespeare." Fueled by such ambition, I was a good bet for graduate school, where my first creative-writing instructor said she wished she were as famous to the world as she was to herself, and my second creative-writing instructor said that if he had to do it over again, he'd have become a screenwriter.

On my breakneck tour of European capitals the summer after grad school, I carried in my backpack two books: García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Proust's Swann's Way. Just as Steinbeck's allegory had bored me and Thompson's meditation on the real had enthralled me, García Márquez failed to hold my attention and Proust became a year-long addiction. I loved how Marcel was both sort of the author and sort of a character; how the book was both a work of fiction and a philosophical treatise; how it could talk about whatever it wanted to for as long as it wanted to; how its deepest plot was uncovering the process by which it came into being.

And yet my first novel was pretty much whole-cloth invention. My second book was an extremely autobiographical growing-up novel. My last book of fiction was a collection of stories, many of which read more like essays. My next book was a collage memoir. My most recent book was a diary of a basketball season. You can see, I hope, how I'm going in the wrong direction from how I'm supposed — or once thought I was supposed — to be going.

And now this: not only an autobiographical book but a book about the impulse to write autobiographically, to turn oneself into one's subject. A fiction writer (an ex-fiction writer?), knowing full well how invented such representations are, is hopelessly, futilely drawn toward representations of the real. He's bored by out-and-out fabrication, by himself and others; bored by invented plots and invented characters. He wants to explore his own damn, doomed character. He wants to cut to the absolute bone. Everything else seems like so much gimmickry. This book is an attempt to embody these ideas, to make the case that the only real journey is deeper inside and the only serious subject is the mystery of identity — mine, especially, but yours, too, I promise. Here, in other words, is how I give you me. Here, also, is how I give you you. Here, finally, is how you give me me.

Copyright © 2002 by David Shields

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What People are saying about this

Robert Clark
This slim, smart, and funny book might at first glance strike you as yet more ironizing and self-advertisement from the hipper precincts of literary formalism. But Shields is a serious writer in the best possible sense of the term. He�s set out not merely to remind us yet again of the difficulty of saying anything�especially and particularly about �selves� (our own or anybody�s)�in postmodern times, but to engage that difficulty head on, to make it yield some truth about us in spite of itself. Shields is thinking hard and writing beautifully about what most contemporary writers only sense: that both fiction and nonfiction as represented by the memoir and the essay have credibility problems; that the �truth� contained in fiction has been undermined by its very success at producing verisimilitude; that the veracity of nonfiction�the authenticity of both the authorial subject and its object�has been rendered suspect by its adoption of the story-making machinery of fiction. Enough About You is, for all its humor, feeling, and lightly worn wisdom, a profound attempt to discover a kind of prose that can speak of, through, and beyond those dilemmas. Shields is a pioneering writer, breaking new ground. The future of personal narrative looks a lot like this book.�
Wayne Koestanbaum
David Shields is a marvelous writer, and in this excellent book he makes a valuable contribution to the literature of introspection. His sentences are clean, sharp, funny, and smart; his juxtapositions are startling; he is comically candid about his own adorations and foibles. Enough About You offers sheer amusement: I devoured it in a single sitting.
Charles Baxter
David Shields is a marvelous writer, and in this excellent book he makes a valuable contribution to the literature of introspection. His sentences are clean, sharp, funny, and smart; his juxtapositions are startling; he is comically candid about his own adorations and foibles. Enough About You offers sheer amusement: I devoured it in a single sitting.
David Gates
David Shields has managed to achieve near-total self-exposure without being a damn showoff. In Enough About You, he�s a postmodern Ancient Mariner, fixing us with his glittering eye and buttonholing us about everything, and we can�t help but listen. He even volunteers for the ultimate suicide literary suicide mission�answering your critics�and he comes back without a scratch.
Vivian Gornick
This remarkable book�a smart, moody collage of memory, criticism, and story-telling�is a wonderful evocation of the paradox at the heart of all nonfiction writing: how to enter the self only to leave the self behind. Enough About You is a bold and altogether original approach to the pleasures and punishments of the personal narrative. I salute its enterprise whole-heartedly.
Wayne Koestenbaum
David Shields is a marvelous writer, and in this excellent book he makes a valuable contribution to the literature of introspection. His sentences are clean, sharp, funny, and smart; his juxtapositions are startling; he is comically candid about his own adorations and foibles. Enough About You offers sheer amusement: I devoured it in a single sitting.

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