Other People: Takes & Mistakes

Knopf, 2017


One summer, a friend of Laurie’s worked as a graphic artist in a T-shirt shop in Juneau, Alaska. Cruise ships would dock, unloading old passengers, who would take taxis or buses a dozen or so miles to Mendenhall Glacier, which is a hundred square kilometers—25,000 acres—and whose highest point rises a hundred feet above Mendenhall Lake. Once, a tourist said about the glacier, “It looks so dirty. Don’t they ever wash it?” On their way back to the boat, one or two ancient mariners would invariably come into the shop and ask Laurie’s friend if he would mail their postcards for them. Able to replicate people’s handwriting exactly, he would add postscripts to the postcards: “Got laid in Ketchikan,” “Gave head in Sitka,” etc.

What do I love so much about this story? I could say, as I’m supposed to say, “I don’t know—it just makes me laugh,” but really I do know. It’s an ode on my favorite idea: language is all we have to connect us, and it doesn’t, not quite.



Other People: Takes & Mistakes aims to do nothing less than change how people think about the act of reading; in my case, it has already succeeded, beyond all measure.” —Annie Dillard

“Nobody writes about the contradictions of American culture with more insight than David Shields.”—Gerald Graff

“A romp of a book—sexy and wide-ranging. Shields has a tough time not being interesting.”—Stephen Dunn

Other People is entirely about [David Shields’s] attempt to connect with the world outside himself. For that reason, it’s an incredibly important book for 2017 and all the anxiety that this year brings.”—Andrew Bomback, Ohio Edit

“Sharply observed . . . The persistent bite-size introspections help the reader appreciate how well Shields can look at others.” —Publishers Weekly

“One would guess from a title like Other People that it would be about how hellish humans are, but it surprisingly turns out to be the opposite: a book about expressing love. There are whole passages that seem lifted from previous Shields books, dunked in molten earth, and allowed to erupt again; the way they come out here, polished, glittering, makes me think this was the ideal context for them all along, not a book straitjacketed into a subject/narrative but a book promiscuously preoccupied.”  —Christopher Frizzelle, The Stranger
“David Shields takes the stories we tell about ourselves and others and turns them into a story about all of us. Whether he’s thinking about lying, pain, romance, celebrity, tattoos, trash talk, or why we love the movies, Shields knows that under every answer is another question.” —Sallie Tisdale

Other People: Takes & Mistakes has it all: the confusions of the body; the capers of the mind; a vast democratic cast of deeply American characters; and of course the improvised self, sifting and searching, on a quest to make sense of it all—when it can. This artful collage (tender, witty, warm, intelligent, available, vulnerable) is David Shields at his brilliant best. A beautiful book.” —Charles D’Ambrosio

“David Shields has nerve and can write about everything. —Padgett Powell

“David Shields is the artful trickster of nonfiction. He never stops playing with forms and genres, shifting from memoir to criticism, pastiche to portraiture. Athletes, actors, family; an improbable gallery of alter egos; the big questions and the quotidian moments: they’re all here in high-resolution prose. Cultural energies and contradictions flow through Shields. Likewise, in his own exuberant words, ‘all manner of mad human needs.’” —Margo Jefferson

“Readers fascinated by ‘a life limited but also defined by language’ will enjoy this work by an established figure in the field.” —Doug Diesenhaus, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“Wise, surprising, and relentless, Shields demonstrates that life can be art, and so can repurposed ideas.”  Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist (starred review)

“Shields offers portraits of ‘other people,’ including family members, lovers, athletes, and celebrities. However, in these essays, Shields also frequently interrogates his notion of self, focusing a lens on his identity in relation to others. Readers . . . will enjoy this work by an established figure in the field.” —Library Journal