book review: reality hunger

David Shields’ Reality Hunger was a treatise on the slippery nature of facts and how that makes nonfiction a way more interesting genre of writing than fiction. Each of the paragraphs is numbered, and he liberally quotes people without indicating his sources.

There are bits I recognize like the famous Dubya aide dismissing the “reality based community” but there was also stuff about Ichiro being present in the moment when he catches a fly ball. There’s a lot about James Frey and how he was pilloried for making things up. He talks about hip hop and Girl Talk and the Grey Album. He talks about collage novels, and about how a discursive text in which nothing at all happens or a collage novel has so much more art to it than something with a narrative.

I tend to be conservative when politicians fuck with facts, and this book didn’t change that, but the malleability of facts outside of politics makes the fiction/nonfiction gap much more interesting to me. Also, the difference between autobiography and memoir had never been clear to me, but now it is.

One of the things I loved the most was the notion that most novels are structured to build up a story around the handful of things they want to say. That there are 7 or 12 bits in a novel that are the point of it, and the rest of the story is like the early stages of a rocket, that fall away as the space pod heads to the moon. But. What if you constructed a piece of writing where everything was one of those little space pods of idea? What if you constructed it from other people’s words? What if you eschewed story, which has so little to do with the way we live (unless we make our memories fit in with the received language of how a story is supposed to go, which is all we do anyway) for really clear thinking about ambiguity?

I loved the fuck out of thinking about this stuff, and this book was the most inspiring, brain-tickling thing I’ve read in a long time. Maybe I should read more nonfiction.

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