Mesmerized–at times unnerved–by his ninety-seven-year-old father’s nearly superhuman vitality and optimism, David Shields undertakes an investigation of the human physical condition. The result is this exhilarating audiobook: both a personal meditation on mortality and an exploration of flesh-and-blood existence from crib to oblivion–an exploration that paradoxically prompts a renewed and profound appreciation of life.
Shields begins with the facts of birth and childhood, expertly weaving in anecdotal information about himself and his father. As the book proceeds through adolescence, middle age, old age, he juxtaposes biological details with bits of philosophical speculation, cultural history and criticism, and quotations from a wide range of writers and thinkers–from Lucretius to Woody Allen–yielding a magical whole: the universal story of our bodily being, a tender and often hilarious portrait of one family.
An audiobook of extraordinary depth and resonance, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead will move listeners to contemplate the brevity and radiance of their own sojourn on earth and challenge them to rearrange their thinking in unexpected and crucial ways.
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Amazon Significant Seven, February 2008: "After you turn 7, your risk of dying doubles every eight years." By your 80s, you "no longer even have a distinctive odor ... You're vanishing." "The brain of a 90-year-old is the same size as that of a 3-year-old." And it goes on and on. David Shields's litany of decay and decrepitude might have overwhelmed the age-sensitive reader (like this one), but The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead manages to transcend the maudlin by melding personal history with frank biological data about every stage of life, creating an "autobiography about my body" that seeks meaning in death, but moreover, life. Shields filters his frank--and usually foreboding--data through his own experience as a 51-year-old father with burgeoning back pain, contrasting his own gloomy tendencies with the defiant perspective of his own 97-year-old father, a man who has waged a lifelong, urgent battle against the infirmities of time. (If believed, his love life at age 70 was truly marvelous.) Interwoven with observations of philosophers from Cicero and Sophocles to Lauren Bacall and Woody Allen ("I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying."), Shields's book is a surprisingly moving and life-affirming embrace of the human condition, where inevitable failures and frailties become "thrilling" and "liberating," rather than dour portents of The End. --Jon Foro
David Shields is the author of eight previous books of fiction and nonfiction, including Black Planet (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), Remote (winner of the PEN/Revson Award), and Dead Languages (winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award). A senior editor at Conjunctions, Shields has published essays and stories in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, The Yale Review, The Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and The Believer. He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is a professor in the English department at the University of Washington.
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