The Shock of the Real
David Shields makes a case against the seduction of fiction
by David Shields
$24.95 List Price
In aphorism 462 of David Shields's tenth book, the invigorating Reality Hunger, he observes, "All writing is autobiography: everything that you write, including criticism and fiction, writes you as you write it." I'll take that dare.
The book was intended as an ars poetica for artists—from essayists to filmmakers to comedians to rappers—who infuse "reality" (Shields's quotes, not mine; this is the kind of book that constantly questions accepted ideas) into their work. The book is also clearly the record of a man trying to figure out why he does what he does, where he's coming from, and where he intends to go. And this, perhaps, is where Reality Hunger is most successful, because what emerges is a portrait of a very smart man vigorously engaged with, and contributing to, the world of ideas. Organized first in lettered (rather than numbered) chapters and then in numbered aphorisms, the book is a complex collection of ideas from a variety of sources, speaking directly or inadvertently in each chapter about a specific concept: "reality," "memory," "doubt," etc. It is a testament to Shields's remarkable control that his authorial voice dominates among the chorus he assembles and conducts.
As a writer who has fictionalized my life, I found that the issues he discusses have a direct impact on my creative process and output. So I had three points of entry into this book: as a syllabus, as a manifesto, and as a work of writing.
One can look at the book as a syllabus for "Reality Hunger 101"—a subject Shields could teach as one of his courses in the University of Washington's
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