An impassioned, funny, probing, fiercely inconclusive, nearly-to-the-death debate about life and art—beers included.
Caleb Powell always wanted to become an artist, but he overcommitted to life (he’s a stay-at-home dad to three young girls), whereas his former professor David Shields always wanted to become a human being, but he overcommitted to art (he has five books coming out in the next year and a half). Shields and Powell spend four days together at a cabin in the Cascade Mountains, playing chess, shooting hoops, hiking to lakes and an abandoned mine; they rewatch My Dinner with André and The Trip, relax in a hot tub, and talk about everything they can think of in the name of exploring and debating their central question (life and/or art?): marriage, family, sports, sex, happiness, drugs, death, betrayal—and, of course, writers and writing.
The relationship—the balance of power—between Shields and Powell is in constant flux, as two egos try to undermine each other, two personalities overlap and collapse. This book seeks to deconstruct the Q&A format, which has roots as deep as Plato and Socrates and as wide as Laurel and Hardy, Beckett’s Didi and Gogo, and Car Talk’s Magliozzi brothers. I Think You’re Totally Wrong also seeks to confound, as much as possible, the divisions between “reality” and “fiction,” between “life” and “art.” There are no teachers or students here, no interviewers or interviewees, no masters in the universe—only a chasm of uncertainty, in a dialogue that remains dazzlingly provocative and entertaining from start to finish.
James Franco's adaptation of I Think You're Totally Wrong into a film, with Shields and Powell striving mightily to play themselves and Franco in a supporting role, will be released later this year.
About David Shields
David Shields is the author of thirteen previous books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and Remote (winner of the PEN/Revson Award). He has published essays and stories in numerous periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Yale Review, The Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and The Believer. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.
"Critic and writer Shields (Reality Hunger) and his former student Powell, once an aspiring artist, now a stay-at-home dad, spent four days together in 2011, conversing on a wide range of issues related to the artistic life. At the center of their quarrel is the push-and-pull between which is the best path: devotion to art or life experience? Shields concedes that Powell has traveled more, had more adventures, and raised more children, but Shields’s devotion to writing paid off in the form of published books, prestigious teaching positions, and engagement with the literary world. As a book-in-dialogue, the two freely discuss and dissect their debts to My Dinner with Andre and David Lipsky’s book-length interview with David Foster Wallace, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (2010). Shields and Powell keep waiting for “the flip,” or the moment when their roles in the interview will reverse, or one will convince the other he is right, but each is so full of complexity and contradictions that it’s difficult to imagine if such a flip is possible. Like any good belletristic conversation, the authors discuss dozens of literary figures, books, movies, from novelists David Markson and Renata Adler to the movies Sideways and The Crying Game. And, like a true teacher, Shields is always pressing for the larger issue, questioning why art matters or how can suffering be alleviated. A worthy and important addition to the genre, this casual conversation pushes readers to rethink fundamental questions about life and art."--Publishers Weekly
"A stimulating intellectual interaction with lots of heart."--Kirkus Reviews
“I read this book at compulsive speed, thoroughly engaged by the weekend and the argument—its unbuttoned fluency and candor. I’m envious of the sheer loquaciousness of the conversation and its no-holds-barred freedom (of speech). Both Shields and Powell have their own style of eloquence. The Art v. Life theme may have been the essential trigger for the book, but it becomes engrossing on a score of other fronts.” —Jonathan Raban
“There’s a sense that we can actually see David and Caleb talking, even though, obviously, we can’t. It’s like eavesdropping on a riveting debate/conversation, and sometimes one takes one side, sometimes the other. One of the things I love most about the book is the tennis-match-in-slow-motion quality of the arguments, which made me question where I stand on the choices I might have made, and even continue to make.” —Susan Daitch
“This deeply personal book is a success. It’s quite daring in its confessional parts. Confession makes sense only when it costs something, when it’s courting disaster; I found that risk-taking in this book, and it’s bracing.” —Peter Brooks
“Most writers editing a taped conversation would cut all the stuff around the ‘point’—in this case, an argument about life and art—but it’s the way in which the conversation about life and art is entwined with the details of the two men’s lives and personalities that makes I Think You’re Totally Wrong so artful. A fascinating, fantastic book.” —Melanie Thernstrom
“I don’t think there’s anything quite like this book, which is way more authentic than fiction or structured argument. It held my attention from start to finish, the narrative line is strong, the characters are developed in an intriguing way, it made me laugh hard dozens of times, and not necessarily at the jokes. The quarrel never turns into false drama because it doesn’t need to.”––Brian Fawcett