An assortment of musings, cultural critiques, and memoir from celebrated essayist Shields. An investigation of otherness: the need for one person to understand another person completely, the impossibility of any such absolute knowing, and the erotics of this separation.
He is fearless about making himself vulnerable to the reader; so fearless he is willing to say, over and over in this triumphantly humane book, that he is a coward. But at the same time — and this is the David Shields we’ve come to love and doubt — we never know when he is making it all up, when he’s just pretending, when he’s pulling our leg. He’s our elusive, humorous ironist, something like a 21st-century Socrates, who happens to be particularly interested in sex, sports, selfhood, actors and fiction. Whether you love this book or find it incredibly annoying might depend on how you feel about irony ... The shortest essays here tend to be the best, reminiscent of Roland Barthes’s Mythologies and also the reviews and shorter essays of Jean-Paul Sartre ... Shields is a master stylist — and has been for a long time, on the evidence of these pieces from throughout his career. You have to really search for a single off-note. The collection can stand as a textbook for contemporary creative nonfiction: erudite, soulful and self-deprecating like John Jeremiah Sullivan; freewheeling and insatiably curious like Geoff Dyer; hilarious and precise like Elif Batuman; and always fresh, clean, vigorous and clear ... All good writers make us feel less alone. But Shields also makes us feel better. He takes in some of the bad of everyday life and our culture and the whole inescapable mess of being human and sends it back to us as good.
We're fine with a miscellaneous book of first-person 'takes and mistakes' whose propensity for error is precisely wherein its profundity lay. But it's Shields' current bad luck that our political era has re-introduced all of us to the iron-clad necessity of knowing what's a fact and what's an 'alternative fact' i.e. a lie or dangerous error. This is an exciting book, nevertheless, no matter where you happen to fall into it ... In his certainty of getting other people wrong, David Shields is vastly more profound, entertaining, memorable and trustworthy than armies of writers whose presumptions of professional certitude and golden methodology are fatuous and mistaken to alarming degrees. Nothing David Shields writes should be ignored. Sometimes, as here, he is to be read as intently as any writer around.
At his best, Shields is a lit-crit star: smart, funny, observant, engaging, daring, original. His prose has an open, easy flow that’s unusual for a career academic and makes his ideas easier to digest ... It all circles back to No. 1, though, and that can sometimes make reading Other People feel like being trapped on the express train to Brown University with a bunch of half-drunk semioticians. Shields is a sharp critic, of others and himself, but for every breathtaking insight there’s a corresponding face-palm.