In this wonderfully intelligent, stunningly honest, painfully funny book, acclaimed writer David Shields uses himself as a representative for all readers and writers who seek to find salvation in literature.
Blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography, Shields explores the power of literature (from Blaise Pascal’s Pensées to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Renata Adler’s Speedboat to Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past) to make life survivable, maybe even endurable.
Shields evokes his deeply divided personality (his “ridiculous” ambivalence), his character flaws, his woes, his serious despairs. Books are his life raft, but when they come to feel un-lifelike and archaic, he revels in a new kind of art that is based heavily on quotation and consciousness. And he shares with us a final irony: he wants “literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn’t lie about this -- which is what makes it essential.”
How Literature Saved My Life is a captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original way of thinking about the essential acts of reading and writing. We’re thrilled to welcome him back to The Booksmith and to have The Believer as our co-host.
“[This book] defies easy categorization (as have others of Shields' works): It is both a paean to the power of language and a confrontation with the knowledge that literature can't, after all, fulfill deeper existential needs. A work of contradictions, subversions, depression, humor and singular awareness; Shields is at his finest when culling the work of others to arrive at his own well-timed, often heartbreaking lines.” – Kirkus Reviews
David Shields is the author of thirteen previous books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (New York Times best seller), Black Planet (National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and Remote (winner of the PEN/Revson Award). He has published essays and stories in dozens of periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, The Village Voice, The Yale Review, Salon, Slate, McSweeney's, and The Believer. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.