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Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  2,337 ratings  ·  397 reviews
An open call for new literary and other art forms to match the complexities of the twenty-first century.

Reality TV dominates broadband. YouTube and Facebook dominate the web. In Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, his landmark new book, David Shields (author of the New York Times best seller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead) argues that our culture is obsessed
Hardcover, 219 pages
Published February 23rd 2010 by Knopf (first published 2010)
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Kevin Kelsey
Posted at Heradas Review

You’ll usually find this in the literary criticism section of a book shop, and having now read it, I can’t exactly argue with that placing, but I can say that it would also be right at home in many other sections: cultural anthropology, sociology, memoir, philosophy, history, poetry, or even general fiction (if I’m feeling particularly objective). It’s a lot of things in one, which means that the book itself fully embodies the crux of its own argument, to get all postmode
Feb 25, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jen Julian
Aug 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Gretchen Rubin
Interesting. I love quotations, I love reality, I love unconventional prose styles. So I'm the target audience for this. ...more
Apr 11, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Chad Post
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jim Elkins
The Challenges of Writing a Collaged Text

Why revisit "Reality Hunger"? The book's central argument is that the devices of the novel, including plot or narrative, character, voice, and genre, are obsolete, and that appropriation, randomness, fragmentation, and other strategies of collage can restore a sense of the "real." In its general form, that question is still open in contemporary fiction. Yet I still find "Reality Hunger" unconvincing. Here I will try to pose two questions.

1. What counts as
May 07, 2010 added it
Shelves: 2010, non-fiction
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
Kressel Housman
Apr 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
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
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
Sep 08, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Jul 04, 2010 added it
Shelves: 2010, summer-reading
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
Mar 03, 2010 marked it as to-read
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,
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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"). ...more
Emma Sea
I was really enjoying it, and then around page 110 suddenly I hated it, and every word seemed smug. I'll try again another time ...more
Ah shit, it's another one of those “if I indulged every tendency I had” books that makes me reflexively cringe in self-recognition. There's a core message here, and Shields references and builds upon a great many of my favorite writers (or just quotes them outright), but it's terribly depressing to realize how many people will read this – admiringly or disgustedly – and, given the lack of humanistic education in my fatherland, fail to engage with the ideas he's building on. If Jordan Peterson sp ...more
Dec 26, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Nov 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I do not intend to be irreverent here, but this book made me want to read fiction. Fiction fiction: novels, short stories.

I choose to believe that what Shields is after is not strictly essay, but rather a new fiction (though in fact it isn't new, it came in with the old), an attendant new (or rather, newly educated) audience (he acknowledges the fact early on, if you're following along in the endnotes-- "39- Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel, the book that in many ways got me thinking about all of
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Frances Dinger
Oct 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 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
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 23, 2010 rated it did not like it
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 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Christy Stewart
I will inevitably give five stars to a book that encourages criminal activity so my opinion of the book might not be trustable.

Shields says "Fuck piracy and plagiarism" and to give his audience a demonstrative donkey show of what he means the book itself is a bunch of quotes from other people, pieced together in a literatural sigil.

What surprised me about the book (since I was pro-fuck-the-system before I read it) is how seamlessly the quotes, or cut-ups, are woven together. The book can be read
Joshua Rigsby
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book gets a lot of shade thrown its way. Some of it is justified. Shields can be an asshole. He revels in his assholery at times. There's also a fair amount of oversell on the cover and blurbs. This book is certainly not, as advertised, "A literary battle cry for the creation of a new genre..." etc. This is not the Bible he's written, but it does have some interesting ideas. If nothing else, think of it as a compendium of views on the subject of literature of fiction and unfiction. Because ...more
Steve Chisnell
Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shields' push to break down the illusory walls of genre to create an honest/true account of the fictions we live is at times compelling and provocative, at times tired, and at times convoluted. The failures don't necessarily reduce the value of the read--Reality Hunger is partly about pushing against boundaries, and in that business there are few guarantees. But at some level even the failures (a refusal to cite sources, for instance, or an overwrought push to force earlier writing reviews into ...more
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readers advisory ...: "novels" that David Shields would like 17 66 Dec 19, 2011 05:05PM  

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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

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