One would assume from a title like Other People that David Shields's latest book is about how hellish humans are, but surprisingly it turns out to be the opposite: a book about expressing love. His love for his parents, his love of Bill Murray, his love for his wife, his love of Charles Barkley, radio listeners' love for Delilah, TV audiences' love for Oprah...
And, of course, love of writing, writers, words. He is a professor of creative writing at the University of Washington and Other People is his 20th (!) book. There are whole passages that seem lifted from previous Shields books, dunked in molten earth, and allowed to erupt again; the way they come out here, polished and glittering, makes me think this was the ideal context for them all along, not a book straight-jacketed into subject/narrative but a book promiscuously preoccupied.
On Bill Murray: "I'm in a swoon over Murray because he takes 'my issues'—gloom, rage, self-consciousness, word-weariness—and offers ways out, solutions of sorts, all of which amount to a delicate embrace of the real, a fragile lyricism of the unfolding moment. He thus flatters me that under all my protective layers of irony I, too, might have depth of feeling as well."
On Delilah's radio show: "Delilah is a relentless valentine for and about the struggling class, a trump card for those holding an empty hand. Delilah offers the possibility of ordinary American female life redeemed by.... by what? The sugar rush of over-the-moon sentiment. In five hours at her house one day, I ate pancakes and syrup for breakfast, cookies for lunch, and ice cream for an afternoon pick-me-up. The hungry heart will be cured by sweetness itself."
On writers: "Writers love-hate that they're writers rather than action figures, so they compose works that celebrate and then desecrate their own word-trapped half-lives."
On Tiger Woods: "What was completely absent from all the coverage of Tiger Woods's self-destruction was even the slightest recognition that for all of us the force for good can convert so easily into the force for ill, that our deepest strength is indivisible from our most embarrassing weakness, that what makes us great will inevitably get us in terrible trouble. Everyone's ambition is underwritten by a tragic flaw. We're deeply divided animals who are drawn to the creation of our own demise."
After that, at 9:30, is the inaugural installment of something called Nightcap at the Cloud Room, created in partnership with Town Hall. I'll ask Shields more questions, or facilitate a conversation with the crowd, or both. There will also be cocktails. It goes from 9:30 to 11 pm, as if we live in a real city or something. It's free, but you need to RSVP.
What will we talk about? The book, whatever just happened at Town Hall, writing, memoirs, how good Claire Dederer's book is, and Bill Murray, probably. Did you know Bill Murray supported Romney in 2012? I had no idea. It's one of many things I learned reading Other People.
More info at this RSVP link.