So I wrote some books that used sports to get at larger questions, I hope, of race, vicariousness, masculinity, and American mythology, but I was wearying of writing about sports; I was still following sports out of the corner of my eye, but I no longer had any particular desire to continue writing about the subject. And yet I continue to be interested in/riveted by the body in motion — mine, yours, everybody's. Martha Graham: the body never lies. I had a desire to keep writing about the body, to show to myself and to readers what the larger project of my "sports writing" was about, and yet not deal with sports per se.
My daughter was an 11-year-old soccer genius, my father was a 94-year-old tennis champion, and my back was killing me (it hurt every time I turned the steering wheel). I kept writing riffs about the body, then I added data to my riffs about the body, then I added philosophical meditations — by myself and others — to the riffs and data crunch. The result was my meditation on mortality, The Thing about Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, which was published five years ago and was to me the completion of a lifelong project about the body — from my first novel, Heroes, which deals with a sportswriter's crush on a college athlete, to Handbook for Drowning, which is obsessed with, um, drowning, to books like Black Planet and Baseball Is Just Baseball and Body Politic, all of which are obsessed to the point of mania with the workings of the body.
Having written at age 53 a book about death, I wasn't sure where to go next. It seemed like a bit of an impasse/road block/early graveyard. I spent months staring at the walls, not sure what book would come next. I was fascinated by the range of reactions to Thing about Life — some readers loved it and got how the different platforms were working together, but other people were completely baffled by the book, flummoxed by it. I wanted to explain to myself, to any readers who were interested, to my friends, colleagues, students, what I was trying to do — that there was method in my madness. How to do so without boring myself to death? I wasn't sure.
More from David Shields on PowellsBooks.Blog:
- How Literature Did, More or Less, Save My Life
- "Fuck the Game If It Ain't Sayin' Nothin'" – Public Enemy
- Fifty-Two-Card Pickup
- Where Do Books Come From?
- Reality Hunger: A Crash Course via the Epigraphs
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David Shields is the author of 13 previous books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than 30 publications), the NYT bestseller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Black Planet, and Remote (winner of the PEN/Revson Award). How Literature Saved My Life is his latest book.
Books mentioned in this post
David Shields is the author of How Literature Saved My Life