The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead by David Shields

What then remains, but that we still should cry
Not to be born, or being born, to die?

Francis Bacon

Like Reality Hunger, many of the best bits of David Shields earlier (2008) book are the numerous quotations. This was a whimsical purchase. A day or two after reading Reality Hunger, I spotted The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead on the LRB shelves and decided to continue my reader relationship with David Shields.

I am torn about the book. On several occasions I almost abandoned it, was tempted to throw it away. To be honest, the book which deals in a frank way about birth, ageing, physical and mental decay, death and mortality succeeded in shocking me. It catalysed me to think (however briefly) about how I live, my relationships with my wife and daughter, with friends. This is clearly A Good Thing, what we hope from literature.

The book is distressing, though there are flashes of dark humour. I found David Shields, the narrator, profoundly irritating as he veered between boasting and regretting the passing of his sports-jock days and whining incessantly about his numerous physical and mental complaints.

The writing is clunky, mixing quotations, lists and short essay-like chapters. This theme is covered more intelligently by Julian Barnes in Nothing to Be Frightened Of. It wasn’t a waste of time but I will not be keeping or rereading the book.

A later chapter consists entirely of Last Words and was the first time I’ve come across this sad but funny one:

Lady Astor, the first woman member of British Parliament, surrounded by her entire family on her deathbed, said, “Am I dying, or is it my birthday?”

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