Posts Tagged ‘James Frey’

Monday Medley

What we read while changing our opinions on the morality of condoms…

  • Speaking of law, the New York Times ran a fascinating article that empirically establishes that Sandra Day O’Connor relied on her clerks to write opinions more than any other contemporary justice.

Reality Hunger: I’m Full

Reality Hunger, a new book by David Shields, is an important book—of this much I am sure. If I had any doubts about this fact, the torrent of blurbs on the book jacket would clear any of those up. There is not an inch of space on the back or front cover that is not taken up by someone’s praise of the book, whether that praise is from fiction writer Jonathan Lethem, poet and “cultural critic” Wayne Koestenbaum, short story writer Amy Hempel, or nearly a dozen others. Some of the blurbs actually cover the title. It’s a bit much.

But then, Reality Hunger is all about breaking boundaries—boundaries of taboo, genre, expectation, artificiality, and so on. It also seems by design that a fair number of the blurbers are quoted in the actual book itself. Shields wants to force the reader to think about the relationship between different texts and different authors. Not much of Shields’ “manifesto,” you see, is actually written—or at least originally written—by Shields himself. What he has done instead is aggregate an impressive amount of text from other sources, ranging from Michael Moore to T.S. Eliot to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and organize them into several distinct categories.

This does not make Reality Hunger an inferior version of Bartlett’s, since the organization is the primary creative act. I cannot begin to imagine how well-read Shields must be for him to have cataloged such a diverse group of texts and remolded them into his own stream-of-consciousness treatise. It is also important to note that the vast majority of quotations are not presented as quotations. Their original sources are only listed in the appendix (and even then only out of legal obligation—Shields frankly admits he didn’t want to include them at all), and they are presented as regular text in numbered chunks, marked no differently from Shields’ own words. Indeed, it took me several dozen pages to realize that not everything in the book comes from Shields himself. The idea is that Shields is using other peoples’ words to express his own ideas. Continue reading