School Library Journal
If you're comfortable with your own mortality, you'll enjoy the reflections offered by Shields on life (his own and that of his 97-year-old father) and death. Award-winning author Shields (English, Univ. of Washington; Dead Languages) explores the human experience from infancy to death and beyond, briefly addressing the notion of human immortality. The anecdotes he shares about his own life are vivid, engaging, and, above all, honest. He admits, for example, that his father's determination to live fully (and forever) generates in him feelings of both love and hate. Interspersed with his own story are numerous startling facts about the human condition, e.g., that we will take approximately 850,000,000 breaths in a lifetime and that the brain of a 90-year-old is about the same size as that of a three-year-old. In addition, Shields offers dozens of memorable quotations from sources ranging from Sibelius and John Wayne to Bertrand Russell and Neil Young. Shields compels readers to examine the mysteries of life and death, but if thoughts of "the end" depress you, take solace in the knowledge that Shields's book also comes to an end. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/1/07.]
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From the Publisher
“Shields is a sharp-eyed, self-deprecating, at times hilarious writer.” —Stephen Bates, The Wall Street Journal “Mix equal parts of anatomy and autobiography, science and self-disclosure, physiology and family history; shake, stir, add dashes of miscellany, pinches of borrowed wisdom, simmer over a low-grade fever of mortality, and a terrible beauty of a book is born.” —Thomas Lynch, The Boston Globe“An edifying, wise, unclassifiable mixture of filial love and Oedipal rage.” —Lev Grossman, Time“A primer on aging and death for those who take theirs without the sugar. . . . There's a comfort to be found in this sober investigation of mortality, in Shields's clear-eyed look at the ways in which we come undone.” —Benjamin Alsup, Esquire“Enthralling . . . Fascinating . . . Ultimately, the humanity of Shields’ interior and exterior exploration is what makes The Thing About Life—and life itself—worthwhile.” —Meredith Maran, The San Francisco Chronicle “Shields undergoes his midlife crisis and comes out the other side–more accessible than ever before, more tender, ‘nicer.’ And yet The Thing About Life adroitly sidesteps sentimentality–very hard to do when the core of it is a son’s love for his cranky, tenacious, irascible, geriatric, Jewish father. I love this book.”—David Guterson“[An] informative and occasionally unsettling meditation on [Shields’s] own aging body and his [97-year-old] nonagenarian father’s seemingly endless vigor and strength . . . He writes with great candor about the vitality of his father. . . Also woven into the text are clever quotes on matters corporeal from the likes of Wordsworth, Wittgenstein, Woody Allen, and Martha Graham. Shields’s memoir is a sobering, at times poignant, reminder that none of us gets out of this life alive.”—Booklist“David Shields has accomplished something here so pure and wide in its implications that I think of it almost as a secular, unsentimental Kahlil Gibran: a textbook for the acceptance of our fate on earth.” —Jonathan Lethem“It’s a bold writer who dares to tackle head-on the subject of what it means to be human–something that David Shields does with an extraordinary mixture of tenderness, humor, and inexhaustible curiosity.” —Jonathan Raban“The Thing About Life grabbed me from the start. It’s extremely compelling, gorgeous in many places. I loved it. And I wish I had written it.”—Lauren Slater