Shields's latest reinvents the "how to" while explaining how the hazy line between truth and lie undermines all forms of modern communication, an understanding that requires accepting the inherent imperfections and idiosyncrasies of a single writer's memory, intent, desire, and point of view. Shields's manifesto reads as a mixture between a diary and lecture-hall notes, each well-thought-out entry (titles include "mimesis," "books for people who find television too slow," "blur," "hip-hop," "in praise of brevity") made up of a series of numbered paragraphs. Incorporated into his consideration of general themes in art are specific pieces of writing and music as well as current events, like the election of Barrack Obama. Shields references a multitude of well-known writers whom he considers definitive (or re-definitive) in literature; one writer that Shields returns to repeatedly is James Frey. Shields considers the Frey debacle, including his guest appearances on Oprah, by way of the imperfect human faculty for memory and communication, finding in Frey's story damning evidence that human beings are doomed to experience life alone. Touching, honest, and dizzyingly introspective, Shields (The Thing About Life is that One Day You'll be Dead) grapples lithely with truth, life, and literature by embracing his unique perspective, and invites each reader to do the same.
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Reality Hunger is a readable, entertaining, and frequently funny series of observations and pronouncements.
Thrilling to read, even if you disagree with much of it.
Absorbing, even inspiring. The ideas [David Shields] raises are so important, his ideas are so compelling, that I raved about this book the whole time I was reading it and have regularly quoted it to friends in the weeks since . . . Shields is a funny and sharp writer with a flair for the dramatic. I am grateful for Shields’s sometimes brutal interrogation of what I believe. His critiques led me to reconsider my own creative process.
Shields's tenth book (following The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead) is intended to rock the foundations of the literary world. This "manifesto" is a challenge to the rigid thinking that seeks to define the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction and redefine truth in art in the 21st century. To signal a departure from convention, the 26 chapters are assigned letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. However, numbers are employed to give order to 617 bursts of thought that range from a single line to several pages in length. Among these entries are remarks from such diverse sources as Emily Dickinson, Michael Moore, and Pablo Picasso. Citations for his numerous references are included grudgingly in an appendix on the advice of lawyers. For Shields, not identifying the sources in the text itself is part of the point that he is trying to make. He challenges his readers to reflect on what the popularity of American Idol, Facebook, and Twitter, for example, tell us about the need for new ways of looking at and presenting reality. Shields demonstrates his point about truth when he makes this simple statement: "This sentence is a lie." VERDICT This book will appeal to a limited audience interested in a modernist view of literary criticism. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/09.]—Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY
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."Author tour to Boston, New York, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle
Praise for David Shields’s Reality Hunger
“A literary battle cry for the creation of a new genre, one that doesn’t draw distinctions between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, scripted and unscripted. . . . David Shields [is] brilliant, thoughtful, and yes, original.” —The Atlantic
“Reality Hunger urgently and succinctly addresses matters that have been in the air, have relentlessly gathered momentum, and have just been waiting for someone to link them together. . . . [It] heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come.” —The New York Times Book Review
"The merely literary questions, however, the questions for readers and writers, are not what distinguish Reality Hunger as the truly necessary book that it has become. Shields identified a spiritual state that has come to dominate American culture as a whole." —Stephen Marche, The Los Angeles Review of Books
“David Shields draws on a wide range of reference, mixing historical reports, personal events, discussions of new media, and literary quotations (some verbatim, others rejigged), to construct a protean polemic that is also an account . . . of his own mental life. . . . Most importantly, Shields knows how to provoke argument without needing to crush all opposition. Rather, the tussle between reader and writer over the nature of reality, the nature of the text we are reading, is itself the aesthetic experience he is after.” —The New York Review of Books
“Good manifestos propagate. Their seeds cling to journals and blogs and conversations, soon enough sprawling sub-manifestoes of acclamation or rebuttal. After the opening call to action, a variety of minds turn their attention to the same problem. It’s the humanist ideal of a dialectic writ large: ideas compete and survive by fitness, not fiat. David Shields’s Reality Hunger has just the immodest ambition and exhorter’s zeal to bring about this happy scenario.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Shields’s radical intellectual manifesto is a rousing call to arms for all artists to reject the laws governing appropriation, obliterate the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, and give rise to a new modern form.” —Vanity Fair
"The merely literary questions, however, the questions for readers and writers, are not what distinguish Reality Hunger as the truly necessary book that it has become. Shields identified a spiritual state that has come to dominate American culture as a whole." —Los Angeles Review of Books