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Reality Hunger: A Manifesto Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 23, 2010
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Sarah Manguso Reviews Reality Hunger
Sarah Manguso is the author of The Two Kinds of Decay, a memoir, and two books of poetry, Siste Viator and The Captain Lands in Paradise. Read Manguso's guest review of Reality Hunger:
"I doubt very much that I’m the only person who’s finding it more and more difficult to want to read or write novels," David Shields acknowledges in Reality Hunger, then seeks to understand how the conventional literary novel has become as lifeless a form as the mass market bodice-ripper. Shields provides an ars poetica for writers and other artists who, exhausted by the artificiality of our culture, "obsessed by real events because we experience hardly any," are taking larger and larger pieces of the real world and using them in their work. Reality Hunger is made of 600-odd numbered fragments, many of them quotations from other sources, some from Shields’s own books, but none properly sourced--the project being not a treasure hunt or a con but a good-faith presentation of what literature might look like if it caught up to contemporary strategies and devices used in the other arts, and allowed for samples (that is, quotation from art and from the world) to revivify existing forms. Shields challenges the perceived superiority of the imagination and exposes conventional literary pieties as imitation writing, the textual equivalent of artificial flavoring, sleepwalking, and small talk. I can’t name a more necessary or a more thrilling book. --Sarah Manguso
(Photo © Marion Ellinger)
"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
“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
“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)
“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
"Thank goodness for David Shields and his new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, which, among other things, is 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. . . . Shields, brilliant, thoughtful, and yes, original, is calling for an 'ars poetica for the burgeoning group of interrelated but unconnected artists in a variety of forms and media.'"—Cathy Alter, Atlantic
"David Shields’s radical intellectual manifesto, Reality Hunger, 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."--Elissa Schapell, Vanity Fair
"A book that defends plagiarism, champions faked memoirs, and declares fiction dead has the literary world up in arms."—Laura Miller, Salon
"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
". . . 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
“A mind-bending manifesto.”—The New York Times
“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. . . . [Shields’s] book probably heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come.”—Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review
Sam Tanenhaus: “Every once in awhile a loud shout comes from the literary world that tells us that everybody is doing everything wrong. . . . Shields has done something ambitious here, and he has done it in an unusual way. . . . Will Reality Hunger have an impact on the way fiction writers and essay writers go about their work?” Luc Sante: “I think it might.” The New York Times Book Review podcast
“With an assist from others’ quotations, Shields argues that our deep need for reality is not being met by the old and crumbling models of literature.”—Editors’ Choice, The New York Times Book Review
“Give him credit. Here’s a manifesto that goes for broke. His book . . . champions his vision of a new avant-garde by enacting it.”—Wen Stephenson, The New York Times Book Review
“His complaints about the tediousness and terminality of current fictional convention are well-taken: it is always a good time to shred formulas.”—James Wood, The New Yorker
“The phrase ‘paradigm shift’ is one that induces my gag reflex, but that’s what he’s up to here. And, dear readers, shift happens.”—Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, Seattle Times
“One of the great books of the year. The book, quite simply, is a marvel, far more provocative and revelatory than annoying . . . and very much a part of the community of writers who are determined to be infinitely smarter than we may all deserve . . . Here’s a guy who actually thinks he knows what’s happening, Mr. Jones. I tell you it’s pretty exciting. Here, at last, is the extraordinary writer David Shields with a book that’s the equivalent of a mall ‘you are here’ map. Reading Shields maybe be the first time I’ve actually liked looking at the map and learning where we are.”—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
“America is losing faith with its fictions. Such is the thesis of David Shields, whose new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, lays out a compelling case for the prosecution.”—Tom Shone, The Daily Beast
“As is true of any good manifesto, [Shields] clocks or locks a feeling in the air, something already everywhere, familiar but not fully formed.”—Alexandra Juhasz, The Huffington Post
“David Shields has set the culture class abuzz with his attack on an obsession with reality that doesn’t exist. Reality Hunger refuses to sit still, leaping among ideas, arguments, programmatic declarations, aphorisms, personal asides, history, and etymology. For anyone frustrated, disappointed, or confused about the purpose of literature in the 21st century, . . . for anyone who . . . is a member of the ‘rarefied world of literary culture’ (or would like to join), Reality Hunger is a must-read.—Ryan Bigge, Toronto Star
“A small new book that’s been making a very big splash. . . . It’s clear . . . why Shields’s self-proclaimed manifesto is making so much noise: its ostensible blast is at the fiction in every novel, but its reverberating echoes can be felt in the facts of any magazine, any newspaper.”—Rick Groen, Toronto Globe and Mail
“How can we create a literature that’s urgent and vital and true to this particular here and now? Practices of writing, and reading, are shifting. None of us should take current modes of expression for granted. I want people to read [Shields’s] book and passionately debate these issues. I want this discussion to matter. And I want to be part of it.”—Catherine Bush, Toronto Globe and Mail
“Shields is the literary equivalent of a frenetic DJ, trolling through vinyl albums, turning other people’s music into his on-stage creation. … For an egghead like me, he is loads of fun to read. Reality Hunger is a feverish collage of insights, often paraphrased and mashed up from other writers.”—Richard Handler, CBC Canada
“A spirited polemic on behalf of nonfiction. . . . an important book. The fiction vs. nonfiction debate has become intense in recent years, and Shields cranks it up a notch. . . smart, stimulating, and aphoristic . . . a provocative and entertaining manifesto.”—Blake Morrison, The Guardian, “Book of the Week”
“Essential reading for both readers and writers. Bold, entertaining, contentious, it pushes us to think about the processes and future of fiction-making, as well as its relation to nonfiction. In short, it shakes us up a bit.”—Stephen Emms, The Guardian
“He manages to give bourgeois traditionalists a right good kicking. One cannot help but admire his verve as well as his nerve.”—Sean O’Hagan, London Observer
“The book is anything but a monograph; it’s a polygraph.”—Toby Litt, Financial Times
“Reality Hunger is more than thought-provoking; it’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time.”—Jonathan Safran Foer
“Reality Hunger is brilliant. It keeps the reader alert and attentive and excited through sheer intelligence, epigrammatic concision, wit, and sheer rightness, as when a pronouncement is so correct that it just pulls all the clouds aside. . . . There’s a feeling of the imminence of violence in these perceptions. This is a great compliment.”—Charles Baxter
“Reality Hunger is witty, insightful, and compulsively readable. Every page abounds in fresh observations.”—Lydia Davis
“I think Reality Hunger is absolutely wonderful. Exhilarating.”—Mark Leyner
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Top customer reviews
The unattributed quotations are a mistake. It makes the tone and diction too choppy and confusing. I had somehow forgotten about the unattributed quotations and was super confused when he would talk about films that he made and stuff. I felt like a sucker when I found out.
There is something interesting about the actual autobiographical parts.
He is right that the memoir and even reality shows seem very alive. They are disreputable (and culturally feminized) forms so weirdly for his argument, but unsurprisingly, he doesn't really embrace either. He doesn't intentionally watch reality shows (but if they are on...). And memoirs are good when they lie for some reason? he just seems pissed at Oprah.
There is no where Shields doesn't go and delve into in his exploration of our culture's current hunger for more. This is an exciting book that skits around so many topics as to make your eyes cross, but also think and think again, and then again This book is having a tough-assed trainer for your mind. It gives you a major workout, and you come away expanded and exhilarated. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys thinking, really thinking, about how they live.
I don't want to spoil it, but there's alot of great reading here.
It was challenging because it never really seemed to transition into a rhythm or flow since I always wanted to stop and flip to the end-notes to see where the quote was from and when I did that it seemed to break my coherence of the argument the chapter was trying to piece together. (Shields' insisted on putting the citations in the end-notes rather than in-line with the text.) I tired to force myself to just look things up after I read a whole chapter and that seemed to help a bit but didn't quite solve things for me for some reason. Overall I felt like I was watching a 500-channel TV with a remote and a bad case of ADD or something. It just felt like the method didn't translate well to the medium.
Overall it was an interesting experiment that others might find really interesting but I found to be hard to read.
Buy it if you're into literature and want to see something really inventive.
Don't buy it if you're looking for a quick, easy, entertaining read.