"Reality Hunger questions every assumption we ever made about art, the novel, journalism, poetry, film, TV, rap, stand-up, graffiti, sampling, plagiarism, writing, and reading. In seeking to tear up the old culture in search of something new and more authentic, it is the most vital book of the new century."
Reality Hunger is an essay that explores, amongst other things, the ideas of ownership of ideas and the role of truth in writing.
The first thing you’ll notice upon picking the novel up is its format. The text comes in 618 numbered sections divided into 26 chapters.
These sections are a mix of text provided by the author himself and many sections (almost half of the entire text) taken directly from other sources.
These excerpts are included in keeping with the books themes that all art is theft and plagiarism should be more recognised as the source of all ideas. Therefore, they are presented without sources creating a disorienting effect as the text leaps from style to style.
Because it is obviously illegal to include these sources without any references there is an index of sources at the back of the book forced upon the author by the lawyers of the publishing house. This index is preceded by a note from the author encouraging the reader to cut the pages from the book without reading them.
I enjoyed this collage style and found the way the writer had chosen excerpts and tweaked them just enough that they fit in with the running theme of the chapters very original.
I also found it slightly distracting at times though, as I read through I’d discover a segment I thought I recognised or one which I really enjoyed. I then found myself preoccupied more with wondering where the section came from than what it was trying to say.
Overall though I found it very interesting, I’ve never read anything like this book before and it was a fun experience.
As for the actual intent of the book, I found it to be mixed. There were parts I didn’t agree with, parts I didn’t fully understand and parts I applauded.
I found the authors discussions of the idea that all art is theft, how ideas and images picked up either consciously or subconsciously from various sources that make their way into every piece of art, to be very interesting.
I also enjoyed the idea that, as memories are distorted by time, that there can be no such thing as non-fiction. That all autobiography and memoir must, by their very nature, contain some form of fiction, just as all fiction must contain an element of autobiography.
These chapters were very interesting and I raced through them, but there were also chapters that I felt were quite contradictory to these themes.
The author makes clear his dislike of plot and structure in novels as they aren’t true to life. He claimed he found plot tedious and predictable and I just couldn’t get on board with these ideas.
These chapters took me out of the book a little and made me feel a little lost. The author says that there can be no such thing as non-fiction yet attacks fiction itself as predictable and almost unlovable.
He also makes the claim that the decline in sales of novels is down to a public which craves reality in fiction and I’m not sure if that’s true.
I found this book to be a bit of a mixed bag but I still found it very interesting and I’d recommend it. There are a lot of good ideas thrown about and the way the format is used is very unique. You may not agree with everything Shields has to say but it’s still very much worth giving him a listen.