“Great books are born of grand passions. The best literature is made when authors refuse to rest easy, but instead dig into their obsessions in order to express not just what’s true, but what’s truer still. This greatness is apparent on every page of David Shields’s How Literature Saved My Life” ––Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild
“Reading How Literature Saved My Life is like getting to listen in on a really great, smart, provocative conversation. The book is not straightforward, it resists any single interpretation, and it seems to me to constitute nothing less than a new form.” ––Whitney Otto, author of How to Make an American Quilt
Listed as one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2013 by Publishers Weekly, The Millions, and Flavorwire
In this wonderfully intelligent, stunningly honest, painfully funny book, acclaimed writer David Shields uses himself as a representative for all readers and writers who seek to find salvation in literature.
Blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography, Shields explores the power of literature (from Blaise Pascal’s Pensées to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Renata Adler’s Speedboat to Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past) to make life survivable, maybe even endurable. Shields evokes his deeply divided personality (his “ridiculous” ambivalence), his character flaws, his woes, his serious despairs. Books are his life raft, but when they come to feel un-lifelike and archaic, he revels in a new kind of art that is based heavily on quotation and consciousness. And he shares with us a final irony: he wants “literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn’t lie about this––which is what makes it essential.”
How Literature Saved My Life is a captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original way of thinking about the essential acts of reading and writing.
David Shields is the author of thirteen previous books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (a New York Times best seller), Black Planet (National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and Remote (winner of the PEN/Revson Award). He has published essays and stories in dozens of periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s,The Village Voice, The Yale Review, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and The Believer. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.