Other People: Takes & Mistakes

Knopf, 2017

Excerpt

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.

 

Reviews

“He is fearless about making himself vulnerable to the reader; so fearless he is willing to say, over and over in this triumphantly humane book, that he is a coward. . . . He’s our elusive, humorous ironist, something like a 21st-century Socrates. . . . This is a very French book, really, and relies on the old-fashioned idea of an essay as an attempt. . . . Shields is a master stylist—and has been for a long time, on the evidence of these pieces from throughout his career. The collection can stand as a textbook for contemporary creative nonfiction: erudite, soulful and self-deprecating like John Jeremiah Sullivan; freewheeling and insatiably curious like Geoff Dyer; hilarious and precise like Elif Batuman; and always fresh, clean, vigorous and clear. . . . The book’s collective tone is . . . strikingly generous, amiable and above all unpretentious. It almost always reads like a conversation with a highly intelligent friend who, after two beers but before three, decides to chat away about genuinely interesting subjects he’s really thought about. If you want to fight your way through an essay to understand what the author is saying, David Shields is not for you; he has more in common with Ira Glass than Robert Coover or Stanley Fish.  . . I began by suggesting that Shields is an ironist or humorist or both, but there’s something more going on here. . . . All good writers make us feel less alone. But Shields makes us feel better. He takes some of the bad of our everyday life and our culture and the whole inescapable mess of being human and sends it back to us as good.” —Clancy Martin, The New York Times Book Review (March 12, 2017) 

“David Shields . . . is one of America’s most accomplished and best writers. . . . This is an exciting book . . . no matter when you happen to fall into it. . . . In his certainty of getting other people wrong, David Shields is vastly more profound, entertaining, memorable and trustworthy than armies of writers whose presumptions of professional certitude and golden methodology are fatuous and mistaken to alarming degrees. Nothing David Shields writes should be ignored. Sometimes, as here, he is to be read as intently as any writer around.” —Jeff Simon, Buffalo News (March 10, 2017)

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

“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

“A serious book on manhood in contemporary America… as brainy as Sebald or Kundera.”–John Domini, Los Angeles Review of Books