Talking to David Shields About Reality Hunger

David Shield.

David Shield’s book, Reality Hunger, arrived right on time.

The publishing industry struggled to come to grips with realities of life in the digital age, and questions of copyright, remixing and appropriation of written work started to penetrate the pages of blogs and national newspapers.

Historically reliable distribution chains were being circumvented and traditional methods of control and predictability were challenged by emerging agile systems. Social media channels and file sharing networks were destabilizing the communications and revenue streams.

People were taking content and doing what they wanted with it. And they weren’t waiting for permission.

All of this is to say that in the moment that this book hit bookstore shelves the modes of change for an entire industry based on the stories, books and literature that Reality Hunger sought to restore and invigorate was afflicted by massive, irreversible changes.

A reality check that was 12 years in the making.

In fact, practically on the day of its release the book got a strange and serendipitous thematic assist from the real world when a 16 year old German novelist was splashed across screens and broadsheets for remixing appropriated written content without permission or attribution.

Reality Hunger.

Helene Hegemann’s acclaimed novel, Axolotl Roadkill, was accused of plagiarism.

Ms Hegemann countered in classic fashion by claiming, “true originality doesn’t exist anyway, only authenticity” and insisted on her “right to copy and transform” other people’s work, taking a stand against what she called the “copyright excesses” of the past decade.


Shield’s book wore its accolades on its sleeve.

Jonathan Lethem, Luc Sante, Lydia Davis, Zadie Smith, Patricia Hampl, Walter Kirn praised it in writing. Some, like Smith found it as confounding and frustrating as she did invigorating. Others, like Lethem, saw it as “a sublime, exciting, outrageous, visionary volume.”

Fader Magazine called it the Hip Hop Album of the Year.

It was a great honor to speak to David Shields about his book and his future work. We went on a long, circuitous tangent about Seattle book publishers which I have edited out of the final version of our conversation.

He even answered a question that I put to him on behalf of Steven Beattie of the Quill and Quire – from his review of Reality Hunger, Starving for Substance.

You can hear our conversation here -> BOTR vs David Shields.

Sean Cranbury is the Executive Editor of Books on the Radio. He's also Founder and Creative Director of the Real Vancouver Writers' Series. Sean is General Manager at the legendary Storm Crow Tavern and consults with literary arts organizations on digital communications strategies.

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