New Harvest, 2012, coauthor with Jeff Ragsdale and Michael Logan
In late October 2011, my friend and former student Jeff Ragsdale posted this flyer around New York City:
Jeff recently realized that he would never achieve success as a stand-up comedian and actor. He’s only very sporadically employed, broke, and living in a tiny room in a boarding house in Harlem. Having gone through an extraordinarily painful breakup this fall, he was extremely lonely. “New York is a terribly difficult place to meet people,” he wrote me. “I was isolated. I wanted to talk to as many people as I could, but not through a keyboard. I wanted to hear a voice, so I came up with the idea of posting this flyer around NYC.”
Jeff thought he’d get a handful of phone calls. He received approximately a hundred calls and texts the first day. The second day he received from people out of state. Several posted a picture of his flyer on the article- and image-sharing site reddit.com, where it quickly became an internet sensation. Soon thereafter he began receiving approximately seven hundred calls and a thousand texts each day.
He’s spoken with people from all over and as far away as Spain, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Taiwan, Australia. Thousands of people have written blogs about the flyer. He’s received more than 60,000 phone calls and texts. A Google search of “Jeff one lonely guy” turns up millions of hits. Clearly, the phenomenon has gone global.
- Chosen by Dave Eggers for Best American Non-Required Reading (McSweeney’s)
“You can either make fun of Jeff, One Lonely Guy (it would be very easy to parody) and reject its self-help earnestness or you can respond as I did: transported by a healing work of art despite (or because of) the enormous amount of pain surging through it. The symphony of voices here is an overwhelming reading experience. This short book is also a verification of a legitimate new form of narrative; it’s the definitive document so far of where our medium is heading. I’ve never read anything like it.” —Brett Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho
“OMG I love this!! It’s so Russian—very reminiscent of the Chekhov story “Complaint Book” (entries in a complaint book at the railway station).” —Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed
“With Reality Hunger, David Shields offered us a manifesto, which unlike most manifestos, actually changed the world. Here, teaming up with Ragsdale and Logan, Shields embodies his ethos: we have crossed over the threshold, and are now—strangely, terrifyingly, beautifully—in this transformed world.” —Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
“[Jeff’s] crazy idea actually worked.” —The Oprah Blog
“The lit equivalent of a kiss-and-tell reality show and a frightening, utterly riveting thriller. This is not a pretty book, but it shows us the world we live in: unbearable everyday humanity, unwashed, unvarnished, completely captivating.” —Frederick Barthelme, author of Natural Selection
“A Goldman Sachs trader gave [Jeff] updates on the Occupy Wall Street protests. Others gave advice, and many vented about their own issues. . . People phoned from as far as Japan and Saudi Arabia.” —New York Post
“But black-box confession isn’t new to the computer age, and the main thing that distinguishes Jeff’s activities from the work of a priest or a counsellor is his lack of training. His callers know that. Many have aired their problems previously through professional channels and now want to connect with someone who’s like them—someone who has nothing practical to offer but who may understand. . . They text Jeff. They don’t sit by themselves for months staring at their coffee tables.” —Nathan Heller, The New Yorker
“The experience of reading it can be close to revolutionary.” —Bookforum