Remote: Reflections on Life
in the Shadow of Celebrity

Knopf, 1996


Information Sickness

Another such narrative goes like this: I love all forms of taxonomy–lists, categories, compartments, containers, boundaries. When I went to the famous Amsterdam sex shops, I was struck mainly by the arrangement of movies and magazines into exceedingly minute subdivisions of pleasure and pain. I love doing errands, and what I especially love about doing errands is crossing things off my errand list. When making phone calls, running errands, or performing ablutions, I always begin with what seems to me the least personal item and conclude with what seems to me the most personal item.

I much prefer this new system whereby a computerized voice rather than the operator gives you the number you want. The sound of long-distance interference on the phone or static on the car radio is, to me, reassuring, sensuous, even beautiful. I’m happy to play phone-tag for weeks on end in order to avoid actually talking, let alone meeting, with someone. And yet if I walk past a ringing pay phone, I answer it; if I walk past a pay phone that’s off the hook, I put the phone back on the receiver. I sometimes get so convinced that an answer I’m looking for—the answer to what I never know—can be found somewhere in the phone book that I’ll spend the better portion of the afternoon flipping through the Yellow Pages.



  • PEN/Revson Foundation fellowship
  • Brandeis University Distinguished Author’s Award
  • Seattle Arts Commission fellowship
  • King County Arts Commission award



“A brilliant mix of scrapbook, cultural criticism, autobiography, travelogue, and found poetry. . . .There are pages of bold pronouncements, many of which are lacerating in their acuity.”
Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

“[This] smart and disturbing collection dissects our obsession with image and television celebrity and, in the process, dissects the author himself.”
Thomas Mallon, GQ

“The talented Mr. Shields gives us a clever collection of vignettes, descriptions, commentaries, and apercus held together by the author’s voice and a finely tuned sense of the absurd. Remote is elliptical, funny, and ironic.”
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Remote should . . . be seen as one of the definitive texts of the 1990s—a trim, elegant, nonfiction answer to Infinite Jest . . . a mordant meditation on the odd way we live now.”
A. O. Scott, Newsday

“In the current craze of memoirs, Remote is unique. It’s a mishmash, a potpourri; it’s impersonal, it’s embarrassingly revealing. It’s very funny, and it tells us more than we want to know about American life.”
Carolyn See, Washington Post

“Shields is a gifted writer capable of surprising perceptions and considerable wit, and his idiosyncratic book offers intriguing insights into the ways the media can shape both the identities and the perceptions of its viewers.”
Publishers Weekly