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Reality Hunger: A Manifesto Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Feb 23 2010
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"In his new book, Reality Hunger, David Shields makes a case that a new literary form has arrived. [He] challenges our most basic literary assumptions about originality, authenticity, and creativity. Reality Hunger has caused a stir in literary circles. [The book] has struck a nerve." --Andrew Richard Albanese, Publishers Weekly (cover article)
"Reality Hunger is an exhilarating smash-up. . . . a work of virtuoso banditry that promises to become, like Lewis Hyde’s The Gift for earlier generations, the book that artists in all media turn to for inspiration, vindication, and altercation as they struggle to reinvent themselves against the headwinds of our time." --Rob Nixon, Chronicle of Higher Education
" Maybe he’s simply ahead of the rest of us, mapping out the literary future of the next generation." --Susan H. Greenberg, Newsweek
"The driving force behind this entertaining and highly persuasive polemic is a frustration with the contemporary mainstream novel. . . . I can’t stop recommending it to my friends. There is no more effective description (and example) of the aesthetic concerns of the internet age than this." --Edward King, The Times of London
"Shields has a point. He gives a damn. He's trying to make a difference. He's using the best of his formidable talents to do that." --Wayne Alan Brenner, The Austin Chronicle
"I love this book and am amused to see some of the hysterical reactions it’s provoked—proof, I think, of its radical truthfulness. Shields is utterly uninterested in providing intellectual comfort; he bravely, uncompromisingly delivers the news." —Walter Kirn
“On the one hand: Who does this guy think he is? On the other: It’s about time someone said something this honest in print. . . . [I am] grateful for this beautiful (yes, raw and gorgeous) book.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
“David Shields’s radical intellectual manifesto, Reality Hunger (Knopf), 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.”
“This is the most provocative, brain-rewiring book of 2010. It’s a book that feels at least five years ahead of its time and teaches you how to read it as you go.”
—Alex Pappademas, GQ
“I’ve just finished reading Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, and I’m lit up by it—astonished, intoxicated, ecstatic, overwhelmed.” —Jonathan Lethem
“For those of us who have been thinking about these issues for a long time, Reality Hunger is an orgy of geekiness, and Shields is the one responsible for everyone getting laid. Much like Dave Eggers, Shields will be repaid for hooking his friends up by becoming a bona fide tastemaker and culture-shaper. Actually, I don’t think it would be too strong to say that Shields’s book will be a sort of bible for the next generation of culture-makers. . .” —David Griffith, Bookslut
“This dude’s book is the hip-hop album of the year.” —Peter Macia, Fader
“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.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Reality Hunger, by David Shields, might be the most intense, thought-accelerating book of the last 10 years.”—Chuck Klosterman (on Twitter)
“Entertaining, insightful, and impressively broad. . . . brings to mind an amped-up Nicholson Baker. . . . Most important, it’s a guidebook for where literary writing could go in the future. . . . You might not agree with Shields’s broadside or his hardheaded conclusions, but it’s difficult not to fall under the sway of this voracious and elegantly structured book. Reality Hunger is ultimately an invigorating shakedown of the literary status quo: recommended for readers, essential for writers.”
—Scott Indrisek, Time Out New York
“The subtitle of David Shields’s Reality Hunger categorizes it as ‘a manifesto,’ which is a little like calling a nuclear bomb ‘a weapon.’” —Don McLesse, Kirkus Reviews
“Thrilling to read, even if you disagree with much of it.” —Zadie Smith, The Guardian
“I find Shields’s book absorbing, even inspiring. The ideas he 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.” —Jami Attenberg, Bookforum
“A collection of wisdoms and aphorisms, some borrowed/stolen/appropriated from others, some written by Shields himself—which layer one upon the other to shimmer with an insistence on a literature that reflects modern’s life’s many complexities and contradictions.” —Debra Gwartney, Portland Oregonian
“This is the book our sick-at-heart moment needs—like a sock in the jaw or an electric jolt in the solar plexus—to wake it up.” —Wayne Koestenbaum
“It’s already become required reading in university spheres, galleys passed from one student to the next like an illicit hit of crack cocaine. I came away from Reality Hunger excited about writing my own fiction, and impatient about books that don’t offer these same thrills.” —Sarah Weinman, Flavorwire
“David Shields has put a bullet in the brain of our ridiculously oversimplified compulsion to think of everything as a narrative.” —Paul Constant, The Stranger
“One of the most provocative books I’ve ever read. . . . I think it’s destined to become a classic.” —Charles D’Ambrosio
About the Author
David Shields is the author of nine previous books, including Black Planet, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Remote, winner of the PEN/Revson Award. His work has been translated into a dozen languages.See all Product Description
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2. Speaking of the jacket copy, by writing a negative review of this book it seems I will be "defending the status quo." Always useful to caricature your opponents in advance. And I thought the status quo totally depressed me ...
3. What is this "conventional literary novel" Shields keeps talking about? Yeah, I also have no desire to read Olive Kittredge, but my lack of interest in the latest celebrity memoir hardly discredits the genre of memoir as a whole. Is Shields reading Hemon, Javier Marias, Percival Everett, Kathryn Davis? For someone who persuasively writes of the novel as a hybrid genre and wants to stake out an indefinite space for his own work, Shields really likes drawing lines in the sand.
4. When Shields does admire a fiction writer (i.e. Bernhard, Coetzee, Sebald) he pretends the writer is a sort of essayist in disguise. This is bizarre. All of the above writers create imaginary characters and involve them in invented narratives. Photos in Sebald do not make him a documentarian. The reason their books do not seem like fiction is that they are incredibly well executed, that is to say artistic. Fiction that does not seem like fiction is simply good fiction. Shields can't admit that the magic is working.
5. How can a book about reality-based forms of art and writing not mention historical fiction even once? Is it because historical fiction sounds staid and proves that Shields' ideas aren't as new and exciting as they want to be? Anybody remember postmodernism, by the way?
6. "Elizabeth Costello," a book Shields recommends several times, would surely create much less cross-genre frisson (would be much less interesting in Shields' own terms) if it was just a series of lectures, if it didn't have its so-called fictional rigging. The fictional elements of it are what create the epistemological uncertainty -- a fact that was certainly remarked upon when Coetzee delivered the stories as lectures at universities.
7. It's funny that a writer tries to be au courant by citing 40-50-year-old quotes announcing the death of fiction. Doesn't this undermine the case a little? No doubt he's right ... about fiction's irrelevance to the culture, anyway, but surely it will be displaced by more meaningless chatter, social networking, and noise, not the lyric essay. Actually this book seems to be in many ways a manifesto for the blogosphere. I kept thinking, blogs are what you want to read, man. Brevity, appropriation, truthiness, the self in all its mangy glory.
8. The part where he tells his writer friends what their books are really about is insufferable. Even the original recipients must have winced when they got these letters, and it is painful to eavesdrop on them. The chapter is of a piece with Shields' bewildering theory that fiction has a sort of extractable essence. If only Ballard did away with all those drained swimming pools and crashed cars and told us what he really meant about technology and modernity! If only Kafka cut the atmospherics and philosophized! Surely Shields thinks "The Zurau Aphorisms" is Kafka's best book.
9. I realize I am getting carried away here. This is to Shields' credit. He has not instructed but provoked my soul, to paraphrase him paraphrasing Emerson. Ultimately this is a book about the lit David Shields likes, which is stuff I also like. I don't define it the way he does. I resent the sophistries and the posturing. I suspect his argument against fiction is more personal than I understand, much like Franzen's jeremiad against difficult books. But the aesthetics here seem pretty egocentric and narrow in the end. (When you read a novel you are participating in someone else's imagined reality, and it amazes me that someone so averse to this generous, beautiful act would comment on fiction at all.) However, "Reality Hunger" is a seriously intended book and it should provoke a serious debate. Let's stop essentially blurbing this book -- it's been blurbed more than enough already -- and actually discuss it.
It boils down to this: he finds traditional narrative boring. He's bored reading it, and, perhaps more significantly, he is bored writing it. He talks about how bored he is with the "traditional form of the novel," as if there is such a thing in a genre that includes "Don Quixote," "Tristram Shandy," "War And Peace," "Nightwood," "Middlemarch," "Bleak House," and any ten other good novels you might name.
This is a gimmicky and ultimately pathetic book, in my opinion. There are already all kinds of genre-bending books out there -- "The Unquiet Grave," by Cyril Connolly, any of Lydia Davis' books, Nicholson Baker's "Vox," "Operation Shylock" by Philip Roth... I mean you could go on all day with such a list. None of these writers needed David Shields to give them permission to do whatever the hell they wanted at the writing desk. This book is basically a desperate and opportunistic attempt by an intellectual poseur to claim some shelf space next to his intellectual betters. Sorry, but that's how I read it.
But if you'd like a much more cut-to-the-chase opinion, check out Shields's appearance on the Colbert Report from mid-April. Colbert (literally) tears him a new one. See how seriously you can take him after his unctuous, self-inflated performance here:
This character -and, presumably, the writer who is telling us about him-- hungers desperately for wisdom because he wants to feel better, he wants to feel real, he wants to feel. Usually insightful riffs and joyfully plagiarized quotes about fiction, non-fiction, music, TV, movies and the visual arts are a cry from a wounded heart. When it comes to reality T.V., he tells us, "the success of the genre reflects our lust for emotional meaning. We really do want to feel, even if that means indulging in someone else's joy or woe. We have a thirst for reality (other people's reality, edited) even as we suffer a surfeit of reality (our own-boring/painful)."
I found myself rooting for this character (as well as David Shields, the writer) to figure everything out, to come up with a coherent aesthetic. Full disclosure: I hung around with the writer 30 years ago and I want him to be happy, and he clearly needs a coherent aesthetic to make him happy. I am not sure that he came up with one, alas, although the attempt is scintillating and heroic.
For one thing, the same David Shields who takes great pleasure in garnering pearls of wisdom and lessons about life from Proust or Kafka also enjoys two songs mixed together by Kanye West, the buzz that surrounded James Frey's book and Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin. It is certainly possible for the same person to love all of that stuff at the same time, but the actual pleasure derived from each experience is quite different, isn't it? This book celebrates and exemplifies the kind of expression that resides in the murky but exciting territory between reality and artifice. But once we get beyond that abstraction, is there is enough in common between the many different works of art that David Shields loves? I am not sure. That is not meant as a criticism. It is one of the fascinating questions provoked by this brave, interesting and important book.