Who, Where & When: If you read my previous posting, I think you understand why I took a Monday afternoon off (4/3/17) from my regular job to see David Shields. It was no small task. The weather was lousy and I had to slog thru the rain on the Georgia State University campus to find the Troy Moore Reading Library located high on the 23rd floor of the 25 Park Building (a veritable fortress). He was one of the few authors that I would make that kind of effort to see. I rarely attend readings anymore.
Attendance. I estimate about 3o attendees mostly Georgia State English faculty and graduate students. I probably stuck out since I sat in the back and was soaking wet. The room looked over a gloomy Atlanta cityscape and upon request Shield preferred the main ceiling lights to be turned off -- leaving the room shrouded in semi-darkness. Instead of hiding behind the lectern, Shields read in front of the first row of seats, which I appreciated. Lecterns can act as barricades between speaker and audience.
What He Read: Shields read from his new book Other People: Takes & Mistakes (his 20th), which is a collection of essays that range from his prose as a graduate student to more recent work. Shields said that he meditated about his writings and made some revisions, but I am not sure what he meant by that (organizationally?). He read short essays about Philip Roth, George W. Bush and O.J. Simpson. Unlike his prose that can seem brash and provocative, Shields reads slowly and thoughtfully, as if hunting for the right expression. He read about 30-40 minutes leaving plenty time for questions, again answering each interrogative with great care as if finding an answer instead of giving one.
What Question(s) Did I Want to Ask But Was Too Shy to Ask. Again referencing the previous posting, I wanted to ask him whether I understood a quote from his Reality Manifesto: "Genre is a minimum security prison." Also, as he quietly read his sometimes incendiary prose, I wondered if Shields, who is often autobiographical, distinguishes between his writer personae and David Shields, the son, husband, father and recreational swimmer. I first heard this dichotomy discussed when I went to a Billy Collins poetry reading where Collins told the audience the narrator of his poems and the reader who was before us, weren't necessarily the same Billy Collins. That's a complicated question to ask somebody in front of an audience and I am sure I would have flubbed trying to articulate it.
Did I Buy the Book? When I went to the front to examine the book, Shields came up to me to chat for a bit. I told him I had enjoyed the three books of his that I had read and then I asked him my question about genre (what writer doesn't like when you quote a passage from their book?). He acknowledged my interpretation that genre can be confining, but easy to escape. I apologized for not buying his new book as it was a heavy hardback that did not lend itself to my daily train commute and we agreed that I should wait for the softcover. I gave him a couple promotional postcards from my Down & Outbound book which he accepted gracefully. We ended the conversation with a handshake.