Enough About You
by David Shields
Simon & Schuster/$22
Ah, the autobiography. The genre has recently become nothing more than a vehicle for people to air their stain-encrusted, stench-infused dirty laundry. The authors have done something dirty — killed somebody, gorged on Ritalin, slept with members of their immediate families — and they want readers the world over to understand their shame. We don't. We're just horrified.
Enter David Shields. His book, Enough About You, reclaims the genre that has as much to teach us about human nature as it does about the author and lifts it to soaring new heights. Not only is the book the story of David Shields, it's a book about what compelled him to write a book about David Shields. And more importantly, it's about what a book about David Shields can tell you about yourself. "I like it when a writer makes the arrow point in both directions — outward towards another person and inward toward his own head," Shields writes.
Many readers can sympathize with the teen prostitute who writes a biography about starting her own brothel. But readers can actually identify with Shields, who in the dark days of adolescence fell in love with Roman satirist Juvenal essentially because Juvenal hated everybody. "Juvenal didn't rein in any of his hate. He despised the fools around him. He refused to love them. He simply couldn't. I love him," Shields explains to an underling at his high school newspaper who's trying to curry favor with him.
But Shields isn't just asking readers to identify with his life experiences and see something of themselves in them. He analyzes and experiments and leads the way to introspection. The chapter In Praise of Collage consists solely of praise of experimental works that Shields is enamored with. Renata Adler, George W.S. Trow, Bernard Cooper, Douglas Coupland and Brian Fawcett all blend fiction and essay, poetry and prose until they've invented something new. "For me the considerable excitement of collage resides in watching the writer weave many separate strands into a beautiful unbreakable braid," Shields writes.
That intricate weaving is also the very excitement of Enough About You.