In this wonderfully intelligent, stunningly honest, and 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 Penses to Maggie Nelson's Bluets, Renata Adler's Speedboat to Proust's A 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, but when they come to feel unlifelike and archaic, he revels in a new kind of art that is based heavily on quotation and consciousness and self-consciousness - perfect, since so much of what ails him is acute self-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.