Synopses & Reviews
An impassioned, funny, probing, fiercely inconclusive, nearly-to-the-death debate about life and art — beers included.
Caleb Powell always wanted to become an artist, but he overcommitted to life (he’s a stay-at-home dad to three young girls), whereas his former professor David Shields always wanted to become a human being, but he overcommitted to art (he has five books coming out in the next year and a half). Shields and Powell spend four days together at a cabin in the Cascade Mountains, playing chess, shooting hoops, hiking to lakes and an abandoned mine; they rewatch My Dinner with André and The Trip, relax in a hot tub, and talk about everything they can think of in the name of exploring and debating their central question (life and/or art?): marriage, family, sports, sex, happiness, drugs, death, betrayal — and, of course, writers and writing.
The relationship — the balance of power — between Shields and Powell is in constant flux, as two egos try to undermine each other, two personalities overlap and collapse. This book seeks to deconstruct the Q&A format, which has roots as deep as Plato and Socrates and as wide as Laurel and Hardy, Beckett’s Didi and Gogo, and Car Talk’s Magliozzi brothers. I Think You’re Totally Wrong also seeks to confound, as much as possible, the divisions between “reality” and “fiction,” between “life” and “art.” There are no teachers or students here, no interviewers or interviewees, no masters in the universe — only a chasm of uncertainty, in a dialogue that remains dazzlingly provocative and entertaining from start to finish.
James Franco's adaptation of I Think You're Totally Wrong into a film, with Shields and Powell striving mightily to play themselves and Franco in a supporting role, will be released later this year.
"A stimulating intellectual interaction with lots of heart." Kirkus Reviews
"Critic and writer Shields (Reality Hunger) and his former student Powell, once an aspiring artist, now a stay-at-home dad, spent four days together in 2011, conversing on a wide range of issues related to the artistic life. At the center of their quarrel is the push-and-pull between which is the best path: devotion to art or life experience?...Like any good belletristic conversation, the authors discuss dozens of literary figures, books, movies, from novelists David Markson and Renata Adler to the movies Sideways and The Crying Game. And, like a true teacher, Shields is always pressing for the larger issue, questioning why art matters or how can suffering be alleviated. A worthy and important addition to the genre, this casual conversation pushes readers to rethink fundamental questions about life and art." Publishers Weekly
“I read this book at compulsive speed, thoroughly engaged by the weekend and the argument — its unbuttoned fluency and candor. I’m envious of the sheer loquaciousness of the conversation and its no-holds-barred freedom (of speech). Both Shields and Powell have their own style of eloquence. The Art v. Life theme may have been the essential trigger for the book, but it becomes engrossing on a score of other fronts.” Jonathan Raban
About the Author
David Shields is the New York Times
best-selling author of sixteen books, including The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll be Dead, Reality Hunger, How Literature Saved My Life,
(cowritten by Shane Salerno). He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington. His work has been translated into twenty languages.
Caleb Powell, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, has played bass in a band, worked construction, and spent ten years teaching ESL and studying foreign languages on six continents. Now a stay-at-home father in Seattle, he has published stories and essays in descant, Post Road, and ZYZZYVA.