Red Pill, Blue Pill

Since it was one of the most highly anticipated books of the year, and since it argues directly against the beliefs of this blog, I want to follow up on the media coverage of Reality Hunger by David Shields.

I reviewed it for Hipster Book Club.

But the best response I’ve seen is from Lincoln Michel at The Rumpus, who carefully takes apart Shields’ argument, and even pushes it into new territory with better pop culture references.

Our heroes come through again. Sam Anderson breaks it down for New York magazine, basically grabbing the book by the wrist and going, “Why do you keep hitting yourself? Why do you keep hitting yourself?” Meanwhile, James Wood engages and refutes it with a brief recapitulation of his defense of realism from How Fiction Works.

Laura Miller at Salon takes issue with the “manifesto-ness” of the book. She also drops the phrase “fiction advocates.” That’s us!

And then you have places like Time Out New York and Flavorpill giving the book free publicity, while the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Onion only glance long enough to dismiss it.



  1. The following quotes from his review are just further proof of Wood’s eloquent, critical genius:

    “Perhaps it is as absurd to talk about progress in literature as it is to talk about progress in electricity—both are natural resources awaiting different forms of activation.”

    “All this silly machinery of plotting and pacing, this corsetry of chapters and paragraphs, this doxology of dialogue and characterization!”


    “Probably there are more coincidences in real life than in fiction. To say ‘I love you’ is to say something at millionth hand, but it is not, then, necessarily to lie.”

  2. There is a great essay in Robert Boswell’s The Half-Known World called “Urban Legends, Pornography, and Literary Fiction,” in which he make a convincing argument that the strength of literary fiction is that it can challenge the reader, whereas urban legends serve to confirm the listener’s beliefs by convincing him that the story is real (“I heard this from Margaret, who said this happens to her husband’s aunt”). The same, I think, could be said of the constructive narratives of memoir and reality television.

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