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Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,723 Ratings  ·  315 Reviews
With this landmark book, David Shields fast-forwards the discussion of the central artistic issues of our time. Who owns ideas? How clear is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction? Has the velocity of digital culture rendered traditional modes obsolete? Exploring these and related questions, Shields orchestrates a chorus of voices, past and present, to reframe deba ...more
Paperback, 221 pages
Published February 8th 2011 by Vintage (first published 2010)
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Apr 17, 2010 Buck rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Last week I posted a pedestrian review of a fairly innocuous book, Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind. After a slow start, the ensuing discussion turned into a bloody street fight: names were called, knives were pulled and, tragically, feelings were hurt. Pretty much everyone involved lost their shit, including me. Good times, good times.

Still, I’m in no hurry to go through all that again. So don’t expect me to mount a fresh defence of my admittedly obnoxious views on the novel (which haven’t change
MJ Nicholls

(1) Why not live a little? Mimesis isn’t so bad. (2) Huh. OK, I’ll bite. (3) Shields’ main argument is that the lyric essay is better able to represent reality than narrative fiction, because reality is far more fragmented and less constructed than a linear plot. (4) Whatever Shields might choose to call this, the book is a work of criticism, and Shields is the critic. (5) I sort of enjoyed how the book’s assertions, self-indulgences, and occasional arrogances irritated and annoy
Had Shields published this book anonymously without copyright or charge I might take him more seriously, but really you have to laugh, at least I do.

Even so, there’s some good and important stuff here about the changing nature of the world and information and art, which is why I give the book three stars, and also because I think it’s fun to challenge the irony and hubris in Shields’s argument. He gets the scenario mostly right, but his manifesto is too dogmatic to accommodate its own artistic
Jen Julian
This is an example of the kind of overtly self-congratulatory deconstructionist bunk that really irritates me about post-modernist writers. Shields comes across as very pompous, insincere, and out of touch, making many broad assumptions about what the reading public "wants" and what writers "should do." As a very intelligent Amazon reviewer noted, this is mostly a book about "the kind of writing Shields likes," namely lyric essays and books that deconstruct the wall between author and subject ma ...more
Sep 08, 2015 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
I avoided reading this for a long time because I couldn't stand this guy in interviews. He sounds glib and uses words like "cognoscenti" to refer to himself. That said, I've enjoyed a quite a few of the books he raves about, most recently Terry Castle's The Professor, so I broke down.
It's basically a lengthier version of Steal Like an Artist and Jonathan Lethem's essay mashup in Harpers a few years back. The novel is over. Jazz is so over--unless it's being edgy, then it's okay. Henry James is a
At the beginning this book was amazing, though then as now I was unconvinced that the novel is dead. Somewhere along the way I got bored and pissed off, not so much with this book as with what people on here were saying about its subject matter. I almost gave up at w, but forged on to z. Didn't see that there was anything more to say.

I note that The Master was nominated for a Man Booker.

I don't really understand what's so threatenin
Jan 10, 2013 Will rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finally, a writer from inside my own head. A writer getting into why I like to read; a writer who attempts to explain the power that words on a page can have over each of us, the how and why literature is important, why writers are so powerful. And if Shields is a love-or-hate-him kind of writer (which is exactly how I've heard him described), I'm in the "love" category.

"I love literature, but not because I love stories per se. I find nearly all the moves the traditional novel makes unbelievabl
Kressel Housman
I've become much more of a non-fiction reader in these past two years, and apparently, I'm part of a larger trend. Whether it's creative non-fiction/memoir or reality TV, true stories are "in." So when I heard a radio interview in which a West Coast creative writing professor declared the novel "dead," saying the only thing worth reading is how a real human being solves the problems of being a real human being, I was so curious that not only did I put his book on my "to read" list, I tried to se ...more
Chad Post
Jan 21, 2012 Chad Post rated it it was amazing
I've been meaning to read this for a while, but seeing David Shields speak at MLA was the thing that finally pushed me to actually do it. This is an amazingly fun book to read, debate with, dip in and out of . . . Every few pages contains something golden:

"I love literature, but not because I love stories per se. I find nearly all the moves the traditional novel makes unbelievably predictable, tired, contrived, and essentially purposeless. I can never remember characters' names, plot development
Apr 17, 2010 Simon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book made me angry. Shields's "manifesto" is a numbered collection of 618 thoughts and quotes of varying lengths united by one common principle: We no longer have time for anything but "reality" in our literature, the old standbys of plot and character are as useful as the horse and buggy. Did you know the novel was dead? In its place Shields prefers memoir, or rather a "reframing of the real." That's the way Shields describes Tina Fey's SNL portrayal of Sarah Palin, and it's also a useful ...more
Latanya Mcqueen
In Which I Respond To David Shields Reality Hunger Through A Series of Personal Manifesto Tweets:
(copy and pasted from Twitter)

Shields—"Why do linked stories often have a stronger thematic pull than novels?” Um, what are you talking about Shields?

Maybe you should have read Olive Kitteridge. Talking about a book without reading it does not make you seem credible.

You say-- "It's my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book" WHY COULDN'T YOU HAVE JUST WRITTEN TE
Mar 03, 2010 Oriana marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Huh. Ok, I'll bite.

From Boldtype:
David Shields' Reality Hunger is a glorious mash-up of provocative quotations, theories, anecdotes, and observations, all unattributed and from a variety of corners. James Frey tangos with Alain Robbe-Grillet, who switches partners with Jay-Z, reading ad copy from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Loosening the restrictions on attribution, calling BS on the novel's adherence to tired, old formats, and tsk-tsking the outcry when memoirs prove to be "fake" liberates Shields,
Mar 19, 2010 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sac-book-reveiw, 2010
The book is a selection of quotations and excerpts plucked from the last five centuries of thought, divided into twenty-six topics to create a comprehensive overview of realism in contemporary literature. Walter Benjamin's "The Arcades Project" is similarly structured (not that I've read the copy I've owned for almost ten years). What I mean is that much of what, in the book, is written by Shields was not originally written for this project; it's taken directly from his previous books - entire p ...more
Frances Chiem
Jan 27, 2013 Frances Chiem rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, on-writing
I avoided this book when it first came out because of the amount of hype it got and because I was at a point in college when I still intensely believed in the novel as a form. But recently I saw David Shields read in a bar and he was sincere and charming, so I figured I had to give him a chance.

Initially, I was suspicious of Shield's assertion that the lyric essay is the answer to the question of where is literature going, and I'm still not totally convinced of it, but it is certain that the nex
This book is extremely thought provoking - though infuriating might be a better term - in it's attempt to explore the relationship between literature and reality, but ultimately fails in understanding what that relationship fully is.

Shields' main argument is that the lyric essay is better able to represent reality than narrative fiction, because reality is far more fragmented and less constructed than a linear plot. The problem is, as other reviewers have pointed out, that reality is not necess
Feb 23, 2010 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book I was, at times, ready to take up the banner of Shields's manifesto -- that we, as consumers of "art" or media, are increasingly too restless and too keenly aware of certain contrivances to stomach many of the forms (the novelly novel, for example) that used to hold our interest. I often feel the same way, even though I write fiction. The artifice of fiction can feel...well, artificial. And there's an urgency to certain "reality-based art" that I admire. And yet...I come to bac ...more
Mar 16, 2011 Tom rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The more I think about this book, the less I like it.

That is, when I started it, I thought, Okay I don't agree with everything here, but it's thought-provoking and engaging and he's really doing something interesting. But the deeper I get into the book, the more his arguments bothered me. I came in with a bias anyway-- that is, I had read plenty about this book and expected to disagree with many of his key arguments, and sensed we would have a fundamental disagreement-- but I still think it's po
A collated series of musings and aphorisms, I think this tome was supposed to be some kind of shot across the bow to the literary establishment. It reminds me of "Thus Spake Zarathustra", but without the depth, the balls, or the vision. It it full of pronouncments that somehow manage to be both wrong-headed and bland. Shields is essentially speaking for the new literary guard here. None of his ideas are that original. They range from the unsubstantiated ("plagiarism is organically connected to c ...more
I absolutely refuse to try to rate this. It made me think, a lot. It pissed me off to no end. I really like the kind of writing he's advocating, and I kind of hate the way he goes about advocating it. I also think it's one thing to say that there's a new kind of writing that is emerging which you find really exciting, but another thing altogether to suggest that this new kind of writing should replace all others, or is an evolution of all others. People LIKE narrative. There's a cognitive scienc ...more
Nov 10, 2015 Megan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Read in the interest of "responsibly" building a CNF syllabus but: I'll pass. This book rankled me not because of its citationality but because of its refusal to [sic], especially when it comes to all the references to "Man" and "He" as artist. Strong case for [sic]s all over. Can't help thinking about how Shields' position as cis white man enabled this project -- who else would be entitled to inherit all of these ideas to "remix" in this smugly floating way? But also I think it would be more in ...more
Feb 20, 2013 Matt rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Interesting start. Interesting collaging. And then he "wrote" another 400 entries.

(He makes good points, though, and the pieces he wrote were often my favorite entries. That said: no, I don't think the lyrical essay is the future; yes, we live surrounded by attention span of zeroes; no, I don't think that spells the death of literature.)

[2.5 stars: 3 for such a strong start, 2 for not knowing how to pare down or self-edit or appreciate brevity.]
Jun 18, 2015 Danae rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Tiene varias cosas buenas pero al final del día es un libro fechado.
La discusión sobre cómo la no-ficción no es “real” la han planteado un buen número de filósofos estructuralistas de mucho mejor forma que Shields, se podría pensar que Reality Hunger es un intento por popularizar una discusión muy metida en el orden de lo estético pero cuando el autor habla de que mediante el collage uno se acerca a la “esencia de la vida” queda en evidencia que le falta una parte importante de sustento teórico
Jan 30, 2012 Stephen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
David Shields writes a lot of stupid things in this book, and his tone borders on insufferable for much of it (the parts he wrote anyway), but he also writes a lot of provocative things (maybe I don't need that "but").
Feb 13, 2014 Antigone rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays-shorts
Mr. Shields suggests:

In the arena of communication we should stop being so concerned about what is true. Nothing is true; not a history, not a memoir, not an autobiography, not a documentary, not a news report, not even a memory. Everything contains an element of imaginative construction.

Mr. Shields asserts:

No one owns their work product. Plagiarism is simply an assist to the furtherance of a valid artistic endeavor.

Mr. Shields maintains:

Narrative is inorganic and, therefore, unauthentic. He has
Jun 05, 2010 Kat rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Strictly speaking, I only read chapters A through P of this A to Z argument against writing fiction, but every chapter seemed to repeat the one before it to a degree that left me convinced I'd learn very little more by finishing. David Shields believes that both traditional fiction and copyright protection have had their day, and that in the future the only exciting and vibrant work will be in a form (he suggests the lyric essay) that mixes a searingly honest sharing of self with rampant, uncred ...more
Jul 26, 2010 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really intellectually stimulating. Perhaps because I was trying to guess where he got his material from. (He actually requests that you don't look at the endnotes in the back of the book - that you cut them out with scissors on the dotted line and throw them away).

He writes about how straightforward fiction - narrative, story, really - just doesn't do it for him, how memoir is part fiction always anyway, how the line between fiction and nonfiction is blurred, how he likes literature of fragment
John Spillane
Jul 27, 2013 John Spillane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rebooted this from the beginning after hearing Shields on a podcast discussing his new book. He is a swell talker. I had initially bought, started, and then lent this out after hearing Shields on various podcasts and the Slate book club discussing Reality Hunger years ago. Yes, I am a podcast broken record.

Anyhow, while I aborted it this book lead me to a favourite book, Markson's Vanishing Point, and Shields may have been the one to tip me off to my favourite writer, Leonard Michaels. I'm not
Jordan Ferguson
“Is it possible that contemporary literary prizes are exactly like the federal bailout package, subsidizing work that is no longer remotely describing reality?”

–David Shields, “Reality Hunger”

Yowch. There’s a lot to yowch about in Shields’ ["The Thing About Life is One Day You'll be Dead"] latest. Reality Hunger calls itself a manifesto on the cover, but if anything it’s a printed mixtape. An argument presented in over 600 numbered snippets, none more than a page or two in length, some Shields w
Jul 20, 2011 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Years ago, I read Michelle Cliff's story, "If I Could Write this in Fire I would write this in fire." Later, Corey Mesler (Goodreads Author) introduced me to the later work of David Markson (Reader's Block is carved into my memory). I mention these two writers because they do in their work essentially what Shields does: allow theme to accrete through the skillful arrangement and crafting of a bunch of small units that combine history, biography, fiction, you name it. You could call them collages ...more
Justin Evans
Jul 11, 2013 Justin Evans rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
This book lays out the positions which he then tries to defend in 'How Literature Saved My Life'.

i) we live in a fictional world, so we crave nonfictional literature as a bulwark against things like the Bush 43 presidency and its claims to reject the 'reality based community.'
ii) we live in a world of infinite information, which is far more interesting than fiction.
iii) the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction should be transgressed.
iv) it's okay to quote other people without admitting
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readers advisory ...: "novels" that David Shields would like 17 50 Dec 19, 2011 05:05PM  
  • The Best American Essays 2004
  • About a Mountain
  • The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc.
  • Yours Ever: People and Their Letters
  • Letters
  • The Best American Essays 2007
  • Shivering Sands: Seven Years of Stories, Drinking and the World
  • Theory of Prose
  • Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
  • I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams
  • Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
  • Ed Emberley's Drawing Book: Make a World
  • The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers Of/On Creative Nonfiction
  • Photography Q&A: Real Questions. Real Answers.
  • Bluets
  • Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir
  • I Just Lately Started Buying Wings: Missives from the Other Side of Silence
  • The Best American Essays 2009
David Shields is the author of fourteen books, including Reality Hunger (Knopf, 2010), which was named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications. GQ called it "the most provocative, brain-rewiring book of 2010"; the New York Times called it "a mind-bending manifesto." His previous book, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (Knopf, 2008), was a New York Times bes ...more
More about David Shields...

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“Copies have been dethroned; the economic model built on them is collapsing. In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connections, and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer, and engage a work. Art is a conversation, not a patent office. The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship, not art. Reality can’t be copyrighted.” 8 likes
“Story seems to say that everything happens for a reason and I want to say, No, it doesn’t.” 6 likes
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