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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

The Thing about Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (Vintage)


The Thing about Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (Vintage) Cover

ISBN13: 9780307387967
ISBN10: 0307387968
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. The book begins with this sentence: “Let the wrestling match begin: my stories versus his stories.” Do you see this book as a battle between David Shields and his father? If so, what are they arguing about, and who wins in the end?

2. Shields emphasizes the idea that people should face the bare facts of life, including our inevitable decline and death. However, he does not find his own unflinching investigation of the limits of our mortality upsetting. How does his perspective enable him to incorporate but move beyond gloom? How does his father's perspective differ?

3. The book is a mixture of anecdotes from various stages of David Shields's life and his father's life. In addition, the reader is given dozens of quotations, and entire sections that are focused on scientific data about the aging process. What holds all of these different forms of writing together? What did you think of this structure for the book?

4. The book charts the various stages of life. Do any parts of this aging process, as described in the book, frighten you or make you feel other emotions? As you read, how do you relate, personally, to the different stages of life being described? How does this book make you feel about your own aging process?

5. The title of the book, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead is, in a sense, flippant or humorous. It's also a harsh truth. How does humor work in the book? How does harsh truth work in the book?

6. Over the course of the book, the author provides dozens and dozens of quotations from historical figures, and from other writers. What did you notice about this collection of people, all together? Which individual quotations most resonated with you?

7. What is the role of sports in the book? There are eight sections named “Hoop Dream.” How do these sections, specifically, and sports in general, interact with the themes of the book?

8. Another running theme in the book is fame and popular culture. How do Shields's discussions of fame and popular culture touch on the central themes of the rise and fall of the human body?

9. The book is filled with coexisting dualities: Peter Parker vs. Spiderman, Milt's tough exterior vs. his emotional vulnerability, the urge humans have for our offspring to be like us vs. the hope that they will be nothing like us. How else do you see this theme surfacing in the book? What do you think the author is getting at with these dualities?

10. How does the author incorporate scientific evidence into this book? How does science function in the work for you, the reader?

11. Of all the biological data in the book, which pieces of information have become most clearly lodged in your mind? Were there pieces of this kind of data that you wanted to share with other people? If so, what were they, and why did you want to share them?

12. How would you quantify this book? Is it nonfiction; is it memoir, biography, literary criticism? How does it affect your experience as reader that it is not easy to categorize? Why do you think that the author wrote it this way?

13. In the chapter “Everything I Know I've Learned from My Bad Back,” Shields talks at length about his bad back. What does he mean when he says that “everything” he knows he learned from his bad back? What, in this context, is “everything”?

14. How do you think Milt Shields felt about this book, its publication, and the fact that it became a bestseller? What do you imagine he said to his son about it?

15. The book ends with notes for five different eulogies Shields might give at his father's funeral. Why five eulogies and not one? How do the eulogies differ from one another?

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Chris Horne, March 12, 2009 (view all comments by Chris Horne)
David Shields is miffed. His adolescent daughter is a soccer prodigy, romping on the pitch with nary an ache or pain. His father steams towards 100, still vital and prickly in a Catskills stud kind of way. Shields himself is fifty and feels every one of his years. Hangovers are no longer physical but metaphysical, his back is shot and he's developed an obsession with death.

But it's the obsession of a man who, for all his gripes, is engaged in life. Death is a shark out there hovering. But until you put the blood in the water, the shark stays put.

Shields offers alternating chapters of objective data on the body's demise and famous commentary on The Big Sleep with subjective epigrams of pique and pathos. Shields laments but never mopes. He is in awe (and peevishly envious) of his father who somehow has figured out the cosmic joke of existence yet never pauses long enough to let the realization that the joke is on us get him down.

This is a great book, subversive in its brevity and ferocity. A communique of rabbit punches.
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Product Details

Shields, David
Vintage Books USA
Personal Memoirs
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.98x5.22x.74 in. .59 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Medical
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Thing about Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (Vintage) Used Trade Paper
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$4.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Vintage - English 9780307387967 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Inspired by the immense vitality of his 90-something father, author Shields (Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine) looks at the arc of a human life in order to come to terms with mortality. Organized into four stages of life-infancy and childhood, adolescence, adulthood and middle age, old age and death-Shields's short, snappy chapters are crafted from personal anecdotes (many featuring his wife and teenage daughter), literary-philosophical musing and enlightening scientific data, examining a wide range of human concerns relating to 'the beauty and pathos in my body and his body and everybody else's body as well.' Shields also visits historical and contemporary figures, from Sigmund Freud to John Ruskin and Woody Allen, for their thoughts on mortality; says Picasso, 'One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it's too late.' Shield's eclectic approach and personal voice makes this extended meditation on living and dying a pleasing and occasionally profound read." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "David Shields has accomplished something here so pure and wide in its implications that I almost think of it as a secular, unsentimental Kahlil Gibran: a textbook for the acceptance of our fate on earth."
"Review" by , "It's a bold writer who dares to tackle head-on the subject of what it means to be human — something that David Shields does with an extraordinary mixture of tenderness, humor, and inexhaustible curiosity."
"Review" by , "The Thing About Life grabbed me from the start. It's extremely compelling, gorgeous in many places. I loved it. And I wish I had written it."
"Review" by , "There are paragraphs so finely wrought, so precisely tuned to the narrow-band channels between reader and writer, that the caught breath of inspiration and the sighs of expiration leave us grinning and breathless....This diamond of a book."
"Review" by , "[W]hen Shields sat down to write, he made a wise and generous decision: to convey what he learned in a confident but self-deprecating manner, the way a smart friend might share facts over the dinner table."
"Review" by , "Enthralling, perplexing, illuminating and discombobulated....[A] fascinating, demanding read."
"Review" by , "Mr. Shields is a sharp-eyed, self-deprecating, at times hilarious writer."
"Synopsis" by , In this beautifully written book, part philosophical meditation and part physiological examination, Shields confronts his own mortality and that of his persistently optimistic, and seemingly age-defying father.
"Synopsis" by , Mesmerized and somewhat unnerved by his 97-year-old father's vitality and optimism, David Shields undertakes an original investigation of our flesh-and-blood existence, our mortal being.Weaving together personal anecdote, biological fact, philosophical doubt, cultural criticism, and the wisdom of an eclectic range of writers and thinkers—from Lucretius to Woody Allen—Shields expertly renders both a hilarious family portrait and a truly resonant meditation on mortality.The Thing About Life provokes us to contemplate the brevity and radiance of our own sojourn on earth and challenges us to rearrange our thinking in crucial and unexpected ways.
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