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The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead
Cover of The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead
The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead
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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.
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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About the Author-
  • David Shields is the author of eight previous books, including Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity (winner of the PEN/Revson Award), and Dead Languages: A Novel (winner of a PEN/Syndicated Fiction award). A senior editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published essays and stories in dozens of periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper's Magazine, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney's, and Believer. He teaches at the University of Washington and lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 4, 2008
    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.

  • Library Journal

    February 15, 2008
    If you're comfortable with your own mortality, you'll enjoy the reflections offered by Shields on life (his own and that of his 97-year-old father) and death. Award-winning author Shields (English, Univ. of Washington; "Dead Languages") explores the human experience from infancy to death and beyond, briefly addressing the notion of human immortality. The anecdotes he shares about his own life are vivid, engaging, and, above all, honest. He admits, for example, that his father's determination to live fully (and forever) generates in him feelings of both love and hate. Interspersed with his own story are numerous startling facts about the human condition, e.g., that we will take approximately 850,000,000 breaths in a lifetime and that the brain of a 90-year-old is about the same size as that of a three-year-old. In addition, Shields offers dozens of memorable quotations from sources ranging from Sibelius and John Wayne to Bertrand Russell and Neil Young. Shields compels readers to examine the mysteries of life and death, but if thoughts of "the end" depress you, take solace in the knowledge that Shields's book also comes to an end. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, "LJ" 10/1/07.]Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY

    Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 1, 2008
    Its not every day that a novelist tells unsuspecting readers the dimensions of his erection. But its just one among many personal admissions offered up by fiftysomething Shields (Body Politic, 2004) in this informative and occasionally unsettling meditation on his own aging body and his nonagenarian fathers seemingly endless vigor and strength. (Both ornery and affable, 97-year-old Milton Shields might have been an entertaining addition to the cast of the 1993 hit movie, Grumpy Old Men.) Shields ruminations on his pimply adolescence and prickly adulthood are more engaging than his copious gatherings of biological facts, many of which seem to have a, ahem, pelvic thrust. He writes with great candor (and at least of pinch of envy) about the vitality of his father, who at age 70 still got plenty of action in the sack. Also woven into the text here are clever quotes on matters corporeal from the likes of Wordsworth, Wittgenstein, Woody Allen, and Martha Graham. Shields memoir is a sobering, at times poignant, reminder that none of us gets out of this life alive.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2008, American Library Association.)

  • Lauren Slater

    "Shields is a sharp-eyed, self-deprecating, at times hilarious writer." --Stephen Bates, The Wall Street Journal "Mix equal parts of anatomy and autobiography, science and self-disclosure, physiology and family history; shake, stir, add dashes of miscellany, pinches of borrowed wisdom, simmer over a low-grade fever of mortality, and a terrible beauty of a book is born." --Thomas Lynch, The Boston Globe"An edifying, wise, unclassifiable mixture of filial love and Oedipal rage." --Lev Grossman, Time"A primer on aging and death for those who take theirs without the sugar. . . . There's a comfort to be found in this sober investigation of mortality, in Shields's clear-eyed look at the ways in which we come undone." --Benjamin Alsup, Esquire"Enthralling . . . Fascinating . . . Ultimately, the humanity of Shields' interior and exterior exploration is what makes The Thing About Life--and life itself--worthwhile." --Meredith Maran, The San Francisco Chronicle "Shields undergoes his midlife crisis and comes out the other side--more accessible than ever before, more tender, 'nicer.' And yet The Thing About Life adroitly sidesteps sentimentality--very hard to do when the core of it is a son's love for his cranky, tenacious, irascible, geriatric, Jewish father. I love this book."--David Guterson"[An] informative and occasionally unsettling meditation on [Shields's] own aging body and his [97-year-old] nonagenarian father's seemingly endless vigor and strength . . . He writes with great candor about the vitality of his father. . . Also woven into the text are clever quotes on matters corporeal from the likes of Wordsworth, Wittgenstein, Woody Allen, and Martha Graham. Shields's memoir is a sobering, at times poignant, reminder that none of us gets out of this life alive."--Booklist"David Shields has accomplished something here so pure and wide in its implications that I think of it almost as a secular, unsentimental Kahlil Gibran: a textbook for the acceptance of our fate on earth." --Jonathan Lethem"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." --Jonathan Raban"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."

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David Shields
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