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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
|In Praise of Reality||3|
|Two Houses of Language||15|
|Letter to My Father||21|
|Games and Words and Ice||25|
|IV.||Me as You|
|The Same Air||57|
|V.||Me and You|
|In Praise of Collage||73|
|Properties of Language||91|
|S & M: A Brief History||99|
|Possible Postcards from Rachel, Abroad||107|
|On Views and Viewing||115|
|The Problem of Distance||125|
|VI.||You as Me|
|Are You Who I Think I Am?||135|
|The Only Solution to the Soul Is the Senses||147|
Posted July 6, 2004
Reading Shield's autobiography was somewhat unique. But is it really autobiography?: I had to question this because he plays with fiction and reality. I'm not saying this with a negative connotation; it's really interesting. I don't see the chronological linear progression in this experimental autobiography. Time, space, even at one point the narrator is Rachael, not David, and it's tasty. I liked it. It's not heavy but not boring either, and most of all, it's pretty sincere. I wouldn't say Shield is being absolutely honest, because he doesn't give us 100% facts...like the media that sort of twist the reality! But it doesn't matter if shield is giving the whole truth or not, that's what i am least interested about, and i would say he was rather successful in communicating with me about life in general through giving a little twist to his life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2004
I never suspected that David Shields Enough About You, Adventures in Autobiography would be able to take me to the introspective and invigorated terrain I found myself wandering by the time I had reached its close. Anyone who doubts that autobiographical work has the ability to deliver the proverbial ¿literary goods¿, or who has mistakenly identified as the exclusive domain of ¿great fiction¿ the pleasures, the insights, or the lingering pain we adoringly call ¿emotional power¿, has obviously not read Shields¿ transformative work. Enough About You is a string of disparate fragmented passages, a protracted collage. Of particular interest to me was the essay on Bill Murray (which alone should be anthology material on the study of humor theory), and a magnetic retelling of the old ¿I read your journals¿ teen-love thread. The connections are scattered and loose, sometimes you find yourself reviewing, going back to other bits, or trying to figure why things seem related. Memoir and essay make up a major portion of the content, strung together on the surface only by the mental activity of the reader. I have to admit, I backpedaled against what I thought was only going to be a lolling stream of rambles, self-conscious childhood reveries and literary cliquishness. That¿s the postmodern trap, you know: fragmentation (collage) and use of the first person have often been a way to spiral a story into self-obsessed rigor mortis. At the universities and literary circles, these works are often the roadkilled raccoon around which the critics gather and plant their mental maggots for years of discussion. Referencing the self, along with so-called ¿creative non-fiction¿, and most other conventional ¿reality based¿ postmodernisms are academic buzzings so overused and overstated, any hint of them will usually flick me to a fitful, nervous sleep. But it didn¿t take long before I realized that with David Shields, I was seeing the residuals of a different kind of thinking; his work is developed and spicy and poignant and has an uncanny ability to set your insides a-churning. More importantly, it¿s a lot of fun to read. The passages are always short and pithy, and they are nearly-every one of them tasty mouthfuls. This is an example of where the ¿good read¿ stuff started to sneak in, despite my critical cynicism. Somehow I felt like I was cheating, like the bon-bon wrappers were piling up around me and I was having too much fun. Shields takes a moment to clarify himself. While giving us a book review, says he loves collage pieces because ¿they¿re all madly in love with their own crises.¿ The fragments work themselves back together. He seems to say, ¿yes, you¿re doing some of the work, but what did you see?¿ He shows us, especially critics like myself, that our issues are our own, and what we get from a writer is at least as much about ourselves as it is about what they are offering. He also makes a compelling argument that our greatest qualities are often one in the same with our deepest flaws. Resist if you must. I did.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2002
I devoured this book in one day during finals week, when I should have been writing a paper. 'Just one more chapter,' I vowed to myself, 'then I'll put it down.' A vow I couldn't keep. The book is a pastiche of autobiography, essay, and literary rumination. Despite the bravado suggested by the title (enough about you, let's talk about me), any narcissism in the work is counterbalanced by the moments when Shields opens himself up as flawed and vulnerable. This happens most brilliantly in a chapter about a college girlfriend and her journal, which manages to be both funny and moving. In the end, all the bits of autobiography amount to an uncompromising self-reflection. I loved this book. I've since passed it on, and it has been received with the same enthusiasm and pleasure.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2002
Enough About You is an autobiography in a more modern sense. Instead of a narrative outline of the events shaping his life, David Shields (award-winning author and Creative Writing Professor at the University of Washington) traces the development of his thoughts in a nonlinear fashion. He does this through a pastiche of experiences ranging from literary references to Rousseau, Juvenal, and Wilde and the like to childhood memories told as short stories to glimpses of random pop culture tidbits to an examination of popular figures in entertainment such as Letterman, Adam Sandler and Bill Murray. Mention of sports and legendary coach Bobby Knight also finds its way into Shields¿ account. The effect this approach of story mixed with fact mixed with questioning of fact and the uncovering of paradox not only in Shields¿ own life, but also in our own lives, has is thrilling. Shields¿ own exploration of thought stimulates one¿s own. There are certain sentences that strike one as incredibly open and confiding. For example, when describing the morning breakfast routine at his home while growing up he adds in parentheses (¿Actually, I may have made this detail up, but it sounds right, it feels right, maybe it happened once¿). Lines like these invite you to not only join Shields¿ own thinking and questioning process but to proceed along the labyrinthine paths of your own, typically unexplored, cognitions. And then there¿s the sheer beauty of Shields¿ writing. His love of language, mentioned in his autobiography at various points, is best expressed through his play with words. What he creates through this play is alone enough to keep any lover of literature turning the pages. All in all, I put David Shields¿ Enough About You down as a Must Read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 1, 2002
This is an honest ¿autobiography,¿ but it¿s not the sort of honesty that we normally associate with autobiographies. This honesty isn¿t about getting all of the details right. In fact, Shields admits that some things just seem right to him, regardless of whether or not they actually happened. They seem right to the reader, though, too, and that¿s where the honesty lies. Shields promises in his prologue that as he presents his own self, he will also ¿give you you,¿ and he does. We can find ourselves in each chapter - the stories we tell and why we tell them, what we think about ourselves and how we try to communicate that to the world. Shields does not separate himself or his readers from the process of writing about his life, and I found myself immediately absorbed. I definitely recommend it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 3, 2002
Halfway through this book I lost myself somehwere in the story: I found that I was learning something there by heart. Enough About You is not only a painfully self-revealing illustration of its author, David Shields, but also a portrait of our universal givings and misgivings. Despite his (our) flaws, he is still able to embrace himself, his relationship to others, and the world. Woven throughout these stories (the chapters can be read as independent essays or as a novel exploring the same theme) are reflections on the interactions between reader, writer, and human beings in general. The book works on a number of different levels: as simple stories of a boy growing up, as reflections on the authorial process, and as a more complex statement of the nature of life and love.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2002
For those of us readers who feel absolutely barraged by the literary world¿s seemingly never-ending thunderstorm of memoirs, ¿how to write¿ books, and autobiographies, David Shields has an answer. His self-proclaimed ¿attack on autobiography¿ succeeds in its poignancy, its quirky (often scary) humor, and its not-too-subtle critique on its own genre. Shields gives us his take on subjects ranging from criticism to Bill Murray to his own semi-fictional comings of age. He masterfully links 22 seemingly unrelated chapters in a manner which, upon finishing the book, the reader feels that he or she has been taken on a roller-coaster-esque ride through not just the author¿s life and culture, but through our lives and culture as well. I read this book in an afternoon, in a single sitting. It¿s a book that, while maintaining its goal of introspection into something universally human, is still very fun to read. I felt the pangs of the narrator¿s past mistakes, laughed along with Shields when he quotes Mr. Murray, and got justifiably frustrated when taken along for a ride on the other side of a book review. Shields takes us into himself in an honest, open way and, in doing this, somehow opens some of our own doors; by telling us his dirty secrets, he reminds us of our own and lets us remember that we¿re all as goofy, confused, and screwed up as the next guy Just as the cover is a menagerie of snapshots of the author, the insides of Enough About You contains 22 refreshing snapshots of one man¿s life that is somehow both unique and universal at the same time. Highly, highly recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 20, 2002
In this book, 'Enough About You', David Shields combines an original and delightful personal narrative with insightful passages about the difficulties of autobiography. The collage form of the book repeatedly reminded me of the act of memory itself, in which over time life experiences blur into one flowing series of snapshots about the person you used to be, the people you've loved, the experiences you've had and the brief encounters with wisdom that have shaped who you are. Toward the end of the book Shields interrupts himself (not a rare move) and explores the difficulty of telling the story of yourself while still being very much a part of that self. ''Don't you finally want to get outside or yourself?' He questions, 'Isn't that finally what this has to be about, getting beyond the blahblahblah or your endless-' Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Or rather, yes and no. I want to get past myself, of course I do, but the only way I know how to do this is to ride along on my own nerve endings; the only way out is deeper in.'(p.133) Isn't that the truth for all of us who, in the search for our identities, feel like we're drowning in a vague sea of self-centered feelings and perceptions? Shields does not expect us to ignore the tendency of emotion, nostalgia and self-absorption to overwhelm our memories, instead he urges us to dive straight into these parts (and all other parts) of our pasts in search of the moments which truly represent 'you'. Enough About You was a unique treasure for me because it was my first page turning, where's he going next, I can't put it down, experience with a work of non-fiction. I attribute this to the exhilarating energy and rapid tempo of Shields' writing. Sometimes it feels like your reading as quickly as Shields' is thinking and that's an exciting and original experience. I think the book is unusual because it has universal appeal to readers of all ages, backgrounds and curiosities. The work is not about David Shields the writer, its about you-and what could be more interesting?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 14, 2002
The cover on the book is like a snapshot of the book, it is David Shields: happy, serious, confused, excited, angry, blasé, young, and old. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words: David has filled in what the book cover leaves out. His book is a collection of memories, who he is, who he was, who he wasn't, and who he has always wanted to be. The great thing about Adventures is that it is a collection of memories, good, bad, nostalgic, un-climatic, really everything across the board. What better a way to convey one's self than sharing all his memories that ultimately made him into the person he is today? There is a story I learned years ago about the last man from a southern California Indian clan who came down out of the mountains where he had lived for many years in solitude. When the man came down to the populated city somewhere in San Diego, anthropologists at the local university wanted to find out exactly where he had come from and who he was. The old Indian man began telling a story: he started at the Creation, the beginning of Navajo time, and continued with the memories he had about his entire life as a child, teen, and so on until he reached the present, at a very old age. It took him four days. This man 'was' a collection of every single memory that he had, not just simply a name or a geographic or social category. David Shields's Adventures are collected in the same way as the Indian's story. Shields's answer to the question takes a long time to answer. He uses extraordinarily vivid memories from the time he was a child to the present to describe how he has become the man who he is today. His memories are in a true writer's spirit-hyper-sensitive and filled with his ego getting trampled. He tells us the really dramatic memories, the interesting ones, but in a real life there are a lot of memories that are not particularly interesting or special. Shields combines his memories of forty years ago with the things that happened to him last week and ends up with a conglomerate of analysis on himself and his peers. He talks about how his stuttering led him to have a life-long connection with words and how he 'became a writer' partially to overcompensate for his lack of eloquence speaking. He talks about his migration across the country, from the west coast to east, from Middle America where 'what mattered more than anything else in your life was writing as well as you possibly could' (16) to New York, and finally to Seattle. His skipping back and forth across the country is in character with the rest of the book-he jumps from one memory forty years ago to something from last week-and the story ends up being completely coherent and interesting. And then there is the basketball. 'I mean the summer of 1972 I played basketball. Period. Nothing else. Nothing else even close to something else. All day long that summer, all summer, all night until at least ten.' Shields plays obsessively for an entire summer and then tangos with an opponent on the court until 'my left thigh tickled my right ear. I shouted curses until I passed out from the pain' and broke his femur. Shields quotes Steve Nash on Vince Carter: 'he's one of those guys who might do something you'll never see again.' But Shields has a way of relating himself to Vince Carter, the un-relatable man, and making it interesting without being just another fan who wants some magical connection to a sports god. This is the way David Shields's Adventures go. His stories of his life make the ordinary interesting and encourage the reader to undertake his or her own self-examinatiion.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.