There's a reason.
I'm fascinated by the hullabaloo surrounding this book and the notions of novel & narrative it seeks to open up for discussion. I'm fascinated by the anger and contempt it has inspired. I see where the haters are coming from, but I also kind of dig the subject matter. I agree with Shields 50% of the time and disagree with him the other fifty. Or perhaps it's 60/40. I also really dig the books he digs, which to me says so much about a writer and a mind that...well...even if you want to hate him, how can you really when he admires so much of the work that you admire?
I get that the argument is far more complex. I get that this has all been said before. Shields is hardly the first one to the dance. I get that Shields has perhaps muddied the waters with his self-promotion. I get that declaring the novel dead smacks of a way to protect oneself from never having to write (or having written) a brilliant novel. I get that novelists the world over hate him on spec. They have to...he's called their craft bogus at best.
And yet, and yet.
What Shields is trying to say - though it's been said before - is worth hearing. So what if it's been said before? It bears repeating. I think. Just as all the counter-arguments (lest we forget they've also been argued before) deserve another airing. Reality Hunger has me more fired up about writing than anything I've read in a long time. (And yes, I realize that saying this may mean many of you will no longer take me seriously.) I found myself saying "Yes!" out loud so many times while reading it that I felt a little groupie-esque and a bit of a writer-ly fraud, but that's the truth. I'm sure that's why it's taken me so long to finish it or have any cogent thoughts about the whole matter. He's also reminded me, as if I needed any prompting, why I loved loved loved Carole Maso's Ava all those years ago & why I still fiercely defend it to anyone who seeks to sully it.
There is something here, a truth or a lie or a fake reality or false prevarication or some mad intertwining of each, that has my mind working in a way it hasn't ever worked. Skewing in a way I've never skewed. The result? I've got the crazy notion to explore it by spending a good chunk of time (not sure how long it would take, a year? less?) reading all of the books Shields listed in his post at The Millions and all the other books he's cited as inspirations along the way. I've read many of them, but never in this context. I'd also like to fully explore all the reactions to his work. Is this crazy? I'm certain of it. Will this jack up my novel-reading plans for the year? Definitely. Will this help pay the mortgage? Nope. Will it distract terribly from the work I do that does pay the mortgage? You bet. Even so - I want to tease apart whatever this is that has me sitting up and taking notice, Shields critics be damned. I also think there's a healthy debate & dialogue to be had, rather than the extremes on each side standing as the only reactions to this book and the many topics it raises. Can't we have a conversation about it without everyone fighting? I think we can.
You in? I'm tempted.