Reality Hunger: A Manifesto: David Shields

There’s been some advance fanfare for Reality Hunger, a provocative new manifesto from this University of Washington creative writing professor. In a work that is a series of hooks, Shields writes: ‘Don’t waste your time; get to the real thing. Sure, what’s “real”? Still, try to get to it.’

Often a novel begins with the note, ‘any relation between the characters and real people is entirely coincidental’, which can be blatantly untrue. In 1722, Daniel Defoe tried to pass off A Journal of the Plague Year as an actual journal and in 1595, Sir Philip Sidney had to fight for the right to ‘lie’ in literature. So we have come full circle. And yet, as per James Frey et al, we don’t like to find out we’ve been lied to for the sake of a good story.

Reality Hunger’s main concern is the blurring of the boundary between fact and fiction, the new ways we need to learn how to tell stories, and how to read and understand them. Then Shields takes apart plot. Writers beware: literature is marginalised; Shields urges us to accept that and use it to our advantage. It seems appropriate, in the year Salinger leaves us, for this new text to be obsessed with authenticity and the search for what is ‘real’. ‘It’s all in the art. You get no credit for living.’ Read it first: argue later.