Friday, February 1, 2013

How Literature Saved My Life

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields
digital review copy provided by Knopf via edelweiss
"Reading How Literature Saved My Life is like getting to listen in on a really great, smart, provocative conversation. The book is not straightforward, it resists any single interpretation, and it seems to me to constitute nothing less than a new form." --Whitney Otto

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."

A captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original way of thinking about the essential acts of reading and writing.

My Take:
Oh, how I loved this book. And, oh, how difficult it is to explain exactly why. How Literature Saved My Life is unlike any other book I have read.  The title alone is reason enough to read the book. Can literature save a life? Sometimes I think yes and sometimes I think no. Perhaps if you read the right book. This book.

How Literature Saved My Life is a difficult book to describe accurately and I definitely can't categorize it. While I was reading it, I kept thinking that this book reminded me of a professor I had in college who tried so hard to show a classroom full of typical college students how literature could help them make it through to the other side when they finally had to deal with their own 'dark night of the soul'. As an older student in the class, I was silently agreeing with him, but I don't think he got through to very many of the students. This book seems like a long examination of this concept -- literature can show us that we aren't the only one trying to figure out what life is all about; we aren't alone in our pursuit.

I loved this book because reading it felt like those late nights at the local pub arguing and discussing and laughing with other English majors about various poems, books, plays - and the rambling way we went off on tangents, but it all seemed to wind back around and make some kind of beautiful sense.

I will read How Literature Saved My Life again and again.

1 comment:

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