Other People: Takes & Mistakes by David ShieldsOther People: Takes & Mistakes by David Shields

Other People: Takes & Mistakes

byDavid Shields

Hardcover | February 21, 2017

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An intellectually thrilling and emotionally wrenching investigation of otherness: the need for one person to understand another person completely, the impossibility of any such absolute knowing, and the erotics of this separation.

Can one person know another person? How do we live through other people? Is it possible to fill the gap between people? If not, can art fill that gap? Grappling with these questions, David Shields gives us a book that is something of a revelation: seventy-plus essays, written over the last thirty-five years, reconceived and recombined to form neither a miscellany nor a memoir but a sustained meditation on otherness. The book is divided into five sections: Men, Women, Athletes, Performers, Alter Egos. Whether he is writing about sexual desire or information sickness, George W. Bush or Kurt Cobain, women's eyeglasses or Greek tragedy, Howard Cosell or Bill Murray, the comedy of high school journalism or the agony of first love, Shields's sustained, piercing focus is on the multiplicity of perspectives informing any situation, on the irreducible log jam of human information, and on the possibilities, and impossibilities, for human connection.
David Shields is the author of twenty books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times best seller), and Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fello...
Title:Other People: Takes & MistakesFormat:HardcoverDimensions:384 pages, 9.52 × 6.65 × 1.36 inPublished:February 21, 2017Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385351992

ISBN - 13:9780385351997


Read from the Book

I. MenListening to men attempt to talk to each other is like trying to get The Magic Flute on Armed Forces Radio.—­(second lieutenant) caroline beckerThe origin of enslavement is the invention of writing.—­foucaultCOMP LIT 101: ADVICE FROM MY DADGood to get your long and candid letter, Dave. I must say I’m somewhat perplexed by your reaction to your creative writing class. I think you have the accent on the wrong syllable, figuratively speaking. You’re in this class to learn from the teacher, and perhaps from your fellow students. I think if you keep this in mind you’ll loosen up a bit and get a great deal out of the course. All of your classmates are in the same boat; they’re all just as apprehensive about revealing themselves as you are, even though some may be able to camouflage it better than others. I think it’s great you were accepted in the class, and you should think so, too. Relax, and learn from this “famous” writer (though I don’t know his books and had never heard of him before). A certain amount of fear and anxiety at the approach of a new experience is natural and healthy. I don’t know any placid types who are creative people; intensity is what drives them to the outrageous thoughts and ideas ordinary people never think of. But anxiety also has to be ­self-­controlled if it’s not to become the dominant force..   .   .I find Kosinski a good writer, very good. Nobody I’ve read recently writes a better, simpler declarative ­sentence—­no extraneous language, not one extra word or sentiment. With your stuff I’m sometimes so busy untangling the syntax I don’t know what you want to say.Not to be involved with mankind is not to have lived; join up.The Roth book you gave me for my birthday (thank you) grew on me. At first I did a foolish thing: I placed my own prejudices ahead of the novel. I wanted him to leave, for good, his absorption with his father and mother and their ­self-­deprecation. I wanted him also to leave the novel told in the first person. Why ­doesn’t he write novels like everyone else? Writing them in the first person is the lazy way, the easier way. I soon realized how utterly naïve and unsophisticated such an attitude was and settled down to enjoy the book, even that very contrived exchange of letters between David and Debbie, and David and Arthur.I’m hoping that you won’t wait as long as I did to learn how to make dinner, clean house, make sensible purchases, etc., etc. Just because one is a “poet” ­doesn’t mean one has to be a schlemiel. I feel very strongly about this and look forward to talking about it in depth sometime.The Front? I ­didn’t like it. The blacklistings were serious. I want serious subjects treated seriously.I went with your ­great-­uncle Hyman to hear Elie Wiesel give a talk at UCLA this week. A very moving experience, comparable only to the talk I heard by Chaim Potok several years ago. Wiesel had been in Ausch­witz as a teenager and so, of course, he spoke about the Holocaust and the baffling faith of the Jewish people in humanity. He opened with a tale of two Russian peasants who were sitting around drinking and talking. Jacob says to his friend Yosal, “Are you my friend?” “Of course,” Yosal assures him. They talk some more and again Jacob asks Yosal if he’s his friend and again Yosal assures him. Then Jacob asks him once more, “Are you ­really my friend?” And Yosal says, “Of course I am. Why do you keep asking?” “Well,” replies Jacob, “if you are my friend, how come you don’t know that I am hurting?” Wiesel closed his talk by quoting from documents that he’d seen recently, diaries and journals written by concentration camp victims who were forced to conduct their fellow Jews into the gas ovens and then later were themselves incinerated. They left letters and notes and descriptions in bottles and boxes in crevices in the ­crematoria—­some discovered only now. If ever there were people who had the right to tell all the world to go to hell, these were such people, but they wanted humanity to know what had happened there, and by sharing their experiences and describing them, they demonstrated their faith in the survival of the Jews and their faith that people would remember and not ever let such horrors happen again. It was a respectful, quiet, and appreciative audience, and there ­wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Hyman went through two handkerchiefs himself.Don’t stop the world because you want to get off.A ­play—­even a ­one-­act set in ­seventeenth-­century ­En­gland—­needs some “wasted” moments to make it work. Your protagonist, Lilburne, is alone way too much. Plus, he’s a pompous martyr; he ­couldn’t have been that ­self-­righteous in real life. I want to see him in private, enjoying himself with his family, being witty. So far he’s so serious as to be inhuman. Work it out in emotional terms, not intellectual ones.It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. You’ve done a lot of greening and growing in the fourteen months since you were last here. I think I’ve done some, too. My old habits have been carted off to the dump. You’ll see, I think, when you visit in March, although I thought I detected at the end of our last conversation a very conscious pulling away on your part..   .   .John William Corrington writes in the darkly humorous tradition of a Barth, Donleavy, or Heller. He is concerned with the troubled spirit of this country and writes about it with gusto.Peace in the world or the world in pieces.I found that ­toward the end of summer I needed some distance between you and me because I was becoming so conscious of your writing, presumably about me. When you told me that after dinner with Hyman and me, you went downstairs and recorded our sodden trip down memory lane, I was disturbed by it, and after that I felt you were making mental or actual notes any time anything of an “interesting” or curious nature was discussed between Hy and me. I don’t mind that you use any of your observations about me in your writing, but I do mind being made so conscious of the fact that you’re doing it. If other people get this feeling, you may find that they, too, require distance from you, and this ­doesn’t make for close, open, honest relationships. I’ve known quite a few writers and have never had the feeling with them that they were interested in me or observing me just for what grist I could provide for their mill. This is an attitude and approach that I think you will, in time, learn to cultivate.Some think O’Hara’s stories consisted of an introduction, a little character development, and the rest was dialogue of a most ordinary nature. O’Hara was more than that, much more. He said the lonely mind of the artist is the only creative organ in the world. His advice: inherit money, have a job that will keep you busy, be born without a taste for liquor, marry a woman who will cooperate in your sexual peculiarities, join a church, don’t live too long. Oh, he had his wild and uncontrollable moments. He thought of his work as a personal reassessment against the history of his time. An important writer of the ’20s, ’30s, and the ’40s and clear until the time he died..   .   .I know from your letters and even the things you say to me during our ­too-­brief telephone conversations that a considerable annealing has taken place, and I know it’ll be very much in evidence in what you write.This blacklisted writer (played by Luther Adler, I think, maybe not), after coming out of jail for contempt of a congressional committee, gets some work in the gray market and then has a chance to do a script on his own. He can’t believe his luck has changed. Then, when he goes over to his friend’s place to celebrate, his friend says, “Well, it seems that somebody has been doing some poking around, and you know how it is, this ain’t the end of the world, times will change, you’ll see, one of these days we’ll look back on all this and laugh, but in the meantime you’re off the picture and we have to put some schnook, a nebbish who can’t carry your typewriter ribbon, on the picture.” Adler looks at him, looks through him, and on Adler’s face is written all of man’s grief from the beginning of time. His friend sees him to the door, arm languidly on his ­shoulder—­feeble gesture of phony friendship, but it’s there. And he asks Adler, “What will you do now?” Adler says three words, and no more eloquent words have ever been spoken on screen, stage, TV, or anywhere: “Survive. I’ll survive.” He closes the door and walks off into the night. The scene haunts me still and I bet I saw it on Playhouse 90 ­twenty-­five years ago, maybe longer. ­That’s real writing.Why not take the reader into your confidence rather than play a game of wits with him? Illumine the human ­condition—­that’s all. Set it down one little word after another. No tricks or gimmicks.Did you know I must have tried half a dozen times to get down on paper those stories Hyman told you and me about being a panhandler in New York during the Depression? I never could get away from the plain reportage of it, even though I strove to put in “local color” and the “bums” as Hy depicted them. On my ­now-­and-­then tries, I ­couldn’t get past the obligatory opening ­scenes—­descriptions of the Lower East Side, etc. Rarely got much further. “Fiction is not fact,” wrote Thomas Wolfe (the real Thomas Wolfe). “Fiction is fact, selected and charged with a purpose.” Which is exactly what you ­did—­blending Hy’s memories with your imagination to put together an absorbing story. I can’t begin to tell you how much it moved me, especially the very end, when Tannenbaum says Kaddish. Beyond my poor powers of description. (One minor criticism: Why do you need such a cutesy title? How many people nowadays even know what a dybbuk is? Why not just something simple like “A Boy Grows Up”?)BLOODLINE TO STAR POWERMy father’s birth certificate reads “Milton Shildcrout.” His military record says “Milton P. Schildcrout.” When he changed his name in 1946 to Shields, the petition listed both “Shildkrout” and “Shildkraut.” His brother Abe used “Shildkrout”; his sister Fay’s maiden name was “Schildkraut.” Who cares? I do. I want to know whether I’m related to Joseph Schildkraut, who played Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank and won an Academy Award in 1938 for his portrayal of Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola.I grew up under the impression that it was simply ­true—­the actor was my father’s ­cousin—­but later my father was more equivocal: “There is the possibility that we’re related,” he’d say, “but I ­wouldn’t know how to establish it.” Or: “Do I have definite proof that he was a cousin of ours? No.” Or: “My brother Jack bore a strong resemblance to him; he ­really did.” From a letter: “Are we ­really related, the two families? Can’t say for certain. ­What’s the mythology I’ve fashioned over the years and ­what’s solid, indisputable fact? I don’t know. . . . ​We could be related to the Rudolph/Joseph Schildkraut family; I honestly believe that.”In 1923, when my father was thirteen, his father, Samuel, took him to a Yiddish theater on the Lower East Side to see Rudolph Schildkraut substitute for the legendary Jacob Adler in the lead role of a play called Der Vilder Mensch (The Wild Man). Rudolph was such a wild man: Throughout the play, he hurtled himself, gripping a rope, from one side of the theater to the other. After the play, which was a benefit performance for my grandfather’s ­union—­the International Ladies’ Garment ­Workers—­my grandfather convinced the guard that he was related to Rudolph Schildkraut, and he and my father went backstage.In a tiny dressing room, Rudolph removed his makeup and stage costume, and he and Samuel talked. According to my father, Rudolph said he was born in Romania; later in his acting career, he went to Vienna and Berlin. He and his wife and son, Joseph, came to New York around 1910, went back to Berlin a few years later, and then returned to the United States permanently in 1920. (Joseph Schildkraut’s 1959 memoir, My Father and I, confirms that these dates are correct, which proves only that my father probably consulted the book before telling me the story.) Samuel asked Rudolph whether he knew anything about his family’s ­antecedents—­how and when they came to Austria. Rudolph said he knew little or nothing. His life as an actor took him to many places, and his life and interest were the theater and its people. The two men spoke in Yiddish for about ten minutes; my father and grandfather left. What little my father ­couldn’t understand, my grandfather explained to him later.“For weeks,” my father told me, “I regaled my friends and anybody who would listen that my father and I had visited the great star of the Austrian, German, and Yiddish theater in ­America—­Rudolph Schild­kraut. ­What’s more, I said, he was probably our cousin. Nothing in the conversation between my father and Rudolph Schildkraut would lead me or anybody else to come to that conclusion for a certainty, but I wanted to impress friends and neighbors and quickly added Rudolph and Joseph Schildkraut to our family. I said, ‘They’re probably second cousins.’ Some days I made them ‘first cousins.’ Rudolph Schildkraut, as you know, went on to Hollywood and had a brief but successful motion picture career. I told everybody he was a much better actor than his countryman Emil Jennings.”In 1955, my parents were living in Los Angeles, my mother was working for the ACLU, and my mother asked my father to ask Joseph Schildkraut to participate in an ­ACLU-­sponsored memorial to Albert Einstein, who had died earlier that year. “After all,” my father wrote in reply to one of my innumerable requests for more information, “Einstein was a German Jew and Pepi [Schildkraut’s nickname] had spent much of his professional life in Berlin and was a member of a group of prominent people who had fled Germany in the years after Hitler and lived in the Pacific Palisades–Santa Monica area”—Arnold Schoenberg, Fritz Lang, Peter Lorre, Max Reinhardt, et al.

Editorial Reviews

“A triumphantly humane book . . . Shields is our elusive, humorous ironist, something like a 21st century Socrates. . . . He’s a master stylist—and has been for a long time, on the evidence of these pieces from throughout his career. The collection can stand as a textbook for contemporary creative nonfiction: erudite, soulful and self-deprecating like John Jeremiah Sullivan; freewheeling and insatiably curious like Geoff Dyer; hilarious and precise like Elif Batuman; and always fresh, clean, vigorous and clear . . . The book’s collective tone . . . is strikingly gentle, amiable and above all unpretentious. . . . All good writers make us feel less alone. But Shields makes us feel better. He takes some of the bad of our everyday life and our culture and the whole inescapable mess of being human and sends it back to us as good.” —Clancy Martin, The New York Times Book Review“Brilliant and joyously readable . . . one of America’s most accomplished and best writers. . . . In his certainty of getting other people wrong, David Shields is vastly more profound, entertaining, memorable and trustworthy than armies of writers whose presumptions of professional certitude and golden methodology are fatuous and mistaken to alarming degrees. Nothing David Shields writes should be ignored. Sometimes, as here, he is to be read as intently as any writer around.” —Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News"From its Philip Roth epigraph to its final page, this book is tied together by what Shields calls his 'favorite idea'—that 'language is all we have to connect us, and it doesn’t, not quite.'" —Bill Morris, The Millions“Wise, surprising, and relentless . . . At once an essay collection, a memoir and a critical dissection of pop culture and human relationships.” —Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist (starred review)“[Other People] showcases thirty-five years of endless curiosity . . . A smart, funny collection of observations, about himself and others . . . Engaging, daring, original.” —Jeff Baker, The Seattle Times“A serious book on manhood in contemporary America . . .  As brainy as Sebald or Kundera.” —John Domini, Los Angeles Review of Books“If anyone asks me, ‘Where should I start with this David Shields?’ I would enthusiastically recommend Other People: Takes & Mistakes.” —Ivan Schneider, Seattle Review of Books“Shields offers portraits of ‘other people,’ including family members, lovers, athletes, and celebrities. However, in these essays, Shields also frequently interrogates his notion of self, focusing a lens on his identity in relation to others. Readers . . . will enjoy this work by an established figure in the field.” —Library Journal“The essays that comprise Other People are prime examples of how a singular writer can connect to a multitude of people via the written word.” —Andrew Bomback, Ohio Edit“Rangy . . . Carefully observed . . . Glittering.” —Edward Hardy, Brown Alumni Magazine“Sharply observed . . . The persistent bite-size introspections help the reader appreciate how well Shields can look at others.” —Publishers Weekly“Other People: Takes & Mistakes aims to do nothing less than change how people think about the act of reading; in my case, it has already succeeded, beyond all measure.” —Annie Dillard “One would guess from a title like Other People that it would be about how hellish humans are, but it surprisingly turns out to be the opposite: a book about expressing love. There are whole passages that seem lifted from previous Shields books, dunked in molten earth, and allowed to erupt again; the way they come out here, polished, glittering, makes me think this was the ideal context for them all along, not a book straitjacketed into a subject/narrative but a book promiscuously preoccupied.” —Christopher Frizzelle, The Stranger “David Shields takes the stories we tell about ourselves and others and turns them into a story about all of us. Whether he’s thinking about lying, pain, romance, celebrity, tattoos, trash talk, or why we love the movies, Shields knows that under every answer is another question.” —Sallie Tisdale  “Other People: Takes & Mistakes has it all: the confusions of the body; the capers of the mind; a vast democratic cast of deeply American characters; and of course the improvised self, sifting and searching, on a quest to make sense of it all—when it can. This artful collage (tender, witty, warm, intelligent, available, vulnerable) is David Shields at his brilliant best. A beautiful book.” —Charles D’Ambrosio “David Shields has nerve and can write about everything.” —Padgett Powell“David Shields is the artful trickster of nonfiction. He never stops playing with forms and genres, shifting from memoir to criticism, pastiche to portraiture. Athletes, actors, family; an improbable gallery of alter egos; the big questions and the quotidian moments: they’re all here in high-resolution prose. Cultural energies and contradictions flow through Shields. Likewise, in his own exuberant words, ‘all manner of mad human needs.’” —Margo Jefferson