‘How Literature Saved My Life,’ by David Shields

Reviewed by Mark O'Connell in the New York Times Book Review:

0210-OConnell-popupWhen you read David Shields, the first thing you learn is that he takes literature very seriously. The second thing you learn is how seriously he takes his taking seriously of literature. There’s a striking moment in the closing pages of his new book, “How Literature Saved My Life,” when he tells us that he is interested only in literature that obliterates the boundary between life and art. “Acutely aware of our mortal condition,” he writes, “I find books that simply allow us to escape existence a staggering waste of time (literature matters so much to me I can hardly stand it).” If there were such a thing as a quintessentially Shields­ian pronouncement, this may be it, with its odd tonal mixture of the bombastic and the beseeching. Shields wants you to know that he is a writer for whom neither life nor art is a matter to be taken lightly.

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