reality hungry or good hungry

So, David Shields‘ manifesto Reality Hunger.

Structure: 618 short sections grouped into 26 chapters.

Subject: our hunger for the real as opposed to the invented.

Shields makes some strong points and shares some controversial ideas, most of which, in the real world, would require a cite. But Shields does not believe that reality–words, music–belongs to anyone. Random House forced him to credit the sections–there’s a list in the back of the book. But he begs you to cut that section out. Or at the very least not to read it.

Your uncertainty about whose words you’ve just read is not a bug but a feature.

That’s pretty cool. Of course, then there’s

  • the novel is dead #327

But perhaps he’s just reading the wrong novels. Still, it’s true, as Martha Cooley wrote in “Novel Anxiety,” in The Writer’s Chronicle

In content and form, too many novels published today fail to startle, unnerve, or exhilarate us, or to speak in fresh ways to the actual complexities of our experience.

The sense of novel-fatigue out there seems palpable to me…

Shields is FOR a blurring of the distinction between fiction and nonfiction #3. He thinks memoir is as far from real life as fiction is, and that selection is as important a process as imagination #104.

Reality Hunger is repetitive and would have been more powerful if shorter. The stronger ideas would have shined rather than been buried. Still, I’m glad I read it.

I want to explore my own damn, doomed character. I want to cut to the absolute bone. #517

~cross-posted at Contrary

10 thoughts on “reality hungry or good hungry

  1. I just read an amazing writing rule from Anne Enright: “Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.”

    Seems pertinent to “cutting to the absolute bone.” (And the fate of the novel.)


  2. The novel is far from dead. The landscape is expanding. The volcano has errupted. New land masses are forming. And once the lava cools, there will be newly formed acres to plant seeds of ideas and allow them to bloom in both fiction and nonfiction.


  3. Very deft, Cynthia!

    Reality Hunger is interesting, it helped me shift my position from requiring literal or documented facts to requiring authenticity in memoir, and I like David Shields—before it was published I heard him speak and emailed him and he sent me virtually the whole thing, his part anyway, as a Word file—but ultimately disagree about narrative storytelling. But then, his book is really an expression of personal taste, and one can’t disagree with taste, can one? David loves exposition, in my interpretation, and mistrusts traditional storytelling.

    I like storytelling, apparatus and all. David sees something passe and boring and manipulative in scenes and plot. I see something mysterious and well nigh holy. It’s still magical to be able understand someone else, whether fictional or non, and the best way to convey that, to convey human experience, not just to TALK about it, is in stories. They are unreasonably and unfairly powerful, true—part of their allure. We can’t understand their “and then” appeal, not wholly, and so to some this can seem immature or lowbrow.

    But there are stories and then there are stories. David’s attempt to adjudicate gets kind of comic, and sometimes angering, as when he disses a masterpiece, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, in favor of his brother Geoffrey’s The Duke of Deception, a fine book too, but, significantly, out of print. And of course it’s absurd to declare the novel dead.


    • Richard, thanks for sharing your interaction with DS and your thoughts here. I agree that storytelling and fiction in general can sometimes be very powerful. Still, it seems we both found something of interest in Shields’ approach.

      You might be interested in the comment thread to this post over on Contrary’s Blog.


  4. This sounds like a smart book…food for debate.
    I watched a short video about his work at Powell’s Books website. It’s entertaining.
    Thanks for bringing this to light. Now I’m off to the Contrary Blog to hear what others are saying.


  5. Found this book when it first came out in B&N and spent an hour transfixed in front of the bookshelf reading. I didn’t buy it because I’d cut myself off from book purchases that month but now I’m totally going back to get it. I love the premis, the renegade promise of it, and the way his writing sort of dares you to consider your own POV.

    I’m loving your reviews Cynthia. I consider you THE Source for what to read… 🙂


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