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Where Do Books Come From?

My new book, How Literature Saved My Life, was published by Knopf a little more than a month ago, and as I've been traveling around the country talking about it, a lot of people have asked me how the book exists in relation to my previous book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, which was published by Knopf three years ago. Is HLSML a sequel to Reality Hunger? A prequel? A contradiction? A rethink?

I will get to these questions by the end of this week of blog posts, but I wanted to circle back to the broader question of how each book a writer writes is often the result — or at least is the result in my case — of thinking about the previous book the writer has written and how he or she wants to build on it, amplify it, extend it, undermine it. At its worst, this is, I suppose, what Geoff Dyer calls self-karaoke, but one hopes it's not always that or even often that.

I think of the first book I wrote, a novel called Heroes. Pretty traditional. Very traditional. I realized that I wanted to write something much more personal, subjective. I wanted to write something having less to do with setting and plot and invented characters and much more to do with my own life and the obsessions that animate it. I wanted to place myself much more directly in harm's way.I wanted to place myself much more directly in harm's way. I wanted somewhere in the work for myself to exist — I wanted a sense of danger and risk, so I wrote my second book, a very autobiographical novel called Dead Languages, about a boy (some version of myself, surely) who stutters so badly that he worships words.

In my next post, tomorrow, I'll try to take up how this, too, led me to yet another impasse, and so the next book was an attempt to yet again address the limits of the book just written and build off it into a new direction.


More from David Shields on PowellsBooks.Blog:

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David Shields is the author of 15 books, including the New York Times bestseller The Thing about Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead; Reality Hunger, named one of the best books of 2010 by more than 30 publications; and Black Planet, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His work has been translated into 20 languages.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Thing about Life Is That One Day...
    New Trade Paper $15.95
  2. Reality Hunger: A Manifesto Used Trade Paper $8.00
  3. Black Planet: Facing Race During an... New Trade Paper $16.25
  4. How Literature Saved My Life
    Used Hardcover $12.50
  5. Dead Languages (Graywolf Rediscovery) Used Trade Paper $5.95



David Shields is the author of How Literature Saved My Life

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