Literature Saved
My Life



The movie director Bryan Singer, the friend of an acquaintance, sat in first class next to George Bush on a flight home from Korea. Asked by my acquaintance what they talked about, Singer said, “I began to understand why everybody liked him, and I liked him, too.”

“Really?” my acquaintance asked. “Yeah, I did.”

“Did you challenge him on anything?”

“No, ’cause everyone was really nice. Bush got up and talked to everyone in first class for a long time—‘Whaddayou do?’ ‘What are you up to?’ That sort of thing. He was a great guy, very gregarious.”

A Korean dentist pulled out his camcorder and panned from King Kong on a large screen over to Bush reading on his Kindle, then over to Singer’s assistant, who pointed and said, “It’s George Bush!” Then back to Bush. Back to King Kong. The Korean dentist was more interested in the director of X-Men than in Bush, who sensed that Singer was gay and made what Singer perceived to be a friendly joke: “Let’s introduce our assistants and maybe they can have sex!” Bush said he was going to take a nap and asked Singer if he wanted an Ambien; when Singer said he was off Ambien now, Bush replied, “Well, I’ve been using it for years. It keeps me on schedule.” My acquaintance said Singer said Bush simply understands how the world now works; with his friendly manner he gets what he wants, and he’s at peace with everything. Singer said the camcorder video was the best film he saw all year.

What I would give to see this film.



“Here is a mind on fire, a writer at war with the page. ‘I’ve sacrificed my life for art,’ says David Shields in an astutely titled, contrarian collage, How Literature Saved My Life. At age 56, Shields, the author of 13 books, seems to be asking, ‘Is that all there is?’ And yet these rigorous, high-octane, exhaustive yet taut ruminations on ambivalence, love, melancholy, and mortality are like an arrow laced with crack to the brain. Shields draws on popular culture from Greek tragedies to Spider-Man to the essays of David Foster Wallace, while delving into how these works have shaped him. The associative thoughts leap, crawl, wail, and thrash about in an interior mindscape that’s loaded with aphoristic asides, as his gun-to-the-head prose explicates an all-consuming passion for reading, writing, and ‘the redemptive grace of human consciousness itself.'” – Kristy Davis, O, The Oprah Magazine

“Does How Literature Saved My Life live up to Shields’s expectations? In a word: yes. In this wonderful, vastly entertaining book, he weaves together literary criticism, quotations, and his own fragmentary recollections to illustrate, in form and content, how art — real art, the kind that engages and reflects the world around it — has made his life meaningful as both creator and beholder. If this sounds pedantic or self-aggrandizing, it isn’t, though it very easily could have been. Shields is an elegant, charming, and very funny writer who undercuts anything that comes close to a pronouncement. Although his subject is himself, his instructions should prove useful — inspiring, even — to all readers and writers.” – Eugenia Williamson, Boston Globe

“Concise, fearless, urgent. A soulful writer, a skillful storyteller, and a man on the hunt for the Exquisite. Shields is also, in a writerly sense, as brave as they come. Shields’s brisk, hyperintellectual self-consciousness may actually represent some kind of perfect balance—a new poetics for our ADD, post-Great-American-Novel, homiletic, unprivate, reality-gobbling generation. Shields writes with an urgent passion that makes books (sometimes dusty books) come alive. Demonstrating, even inciting, that passion is expressly what Shields is up to in his new book.” – Minna Proctor, Bookforum

“The book it reminded me of most is Henry Miller’s The Books in My Life. Like Miller, Shields manages to convey his affection for and admiration of literature, and that, the enthusiasm and admiration, can revitalize the reader’s love for the art form. I’m grateful for How Literature Saved My Life because the book has made me think again – and for the first time in a while – ‘Well, what is it we do when we read?’ It’s a damned annoying question, but it needs to be asked now and then, and Shields has asked it in a way I find resonant and moving.” – Andre Alexis, Toronto Globe and Mail

“Shields is a stunning writer. Within this book lies significant passion and revelation.” – Huffington Post

“A generation from now, when we pick up our flex-tablets or digi-goggles or whatever and read about literature at the turn of the twenty-first century, there’s a decent chance we’ll see it referred to as the David Shields era. … What Shields has been lobbying for is a sex-on-the-first-date abandon in literature — writing that’s intimate, a little emotionally arrogant, and in a hurry.” – Mark Athitakis, Barnes & Noble

“Editor’s Pick. What makes us read and write when it is harder than ever to ‘only connect’? Examining our relationships with books.” – Salon