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David Shields’s The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power is an immersion into the perils, limits, and possibilities of human intimacy. All at once a love letter to his wife, a nervy reckoning with his own fallibility, a meditation on the impact of porn on American culture, and an attempt to understand marriage (one marriage, the idea of marriage, all marriages), The Trouble with Men is exquisitely balanced between the personal and the anthropological, nakedness and restraint. While unashamedly intellectual, it’s also irresistibly readable and extremely moving. Over five increasingly intimate chapters, Shields probes the contours of his own psyche and marriage, marshalling a chorus of other voices that leaven, deepen, and universalize his experience; his goal is nothing less than a deconstruction of eros and conventional masculinity. Masterfully woven throughout is an unmistakable and surprisingly tender cri de coeur to his wife. The risk and vulnerability on display are in the service of radical candor, acerbic wit, real emotion, and profound insight—exactly what we’ve come to expect from Shields, who, in an open invitation to the reader, leaves everything on the page.
David Shields is the internationally best-selling author of twenty 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 (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice selection). The film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel was released by First Pond Entertainment in 2017. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.
“I often found this book beguiling, and moving. There is always the temptation, in writing about sex, to sound superior, arch, immune to its power. But Shields writes from a place of genuine curiosity and confusion. He is ridiculous and brave, he never conflates sincerity with genuine candor, and he poses the kinds of questions that only ever bring trouble (and are the only kind worth reading about).” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
“By book’s end, we realize that Shields himself is a collage, coming to us in bits and pieces, slipping in and out of the words of others, offering up questions but few answers, forcing us to read between the lines. Many men operate this way, elusive, mute, masked. But Shields wants to be unmasked, to be real even if that means appearing weak or ugly. . . Shields’s brave honesty stands alone.” —Sibbie O’Sullivan, The Washington Post
“Some books you hope will never end. This wasn’t one of those. Some books you wish you never began reading. This wasn’t one of those either. ‘Do you love this book? Do you hate it?’ you ask in the closing pages. Yes, I do. . . . It isn’t the book’s toxic masculinity I hate. Masculinity is most toxic when it’s in denial. Your book denies nothing. It’s the fidelity of the mirror that it offers to a reader like me: that’s what I love and hate. . . . Your book is an invitation: shall we be companions in misery? Of course some readers won’t accept the invitation, but I suspect that is their loss. The Trouble with Men is not for polite company, but the company that actually sustain us is rarely polite since it turns on being frank.” —John Kaag, Los Angeles Review of Books
“In the best Rousseauesque tradition of confessionalism, the person most shamingly exposed is the author. It’s brave of Shields to parade himself as cravenly as he does, and he covers a lot of ground along the way. . . . What gives the book its frisson is the sound of an intellectual talking dirty. High/low; private/public: the demarcations disappear. Above all, there’s his curiosity and his openness.” —Blake Morrison, The Guardian
“David Shields’s new collection of essays, The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power, is a blistering and brilliant quintet of reportage and observations from the forefront of the five parts of our lives suggested by its subtitle. . . . The confessional explosions that play themselves out in this book are equal parts terrifying, edifying, and beautifully troubling. . . . The Trouble with Men is a difficult book to embrace, a problematic book to pin down, but that’s the point. Shields might be a literary boxer, jabbing at us as we try to spar with him, a tender shot to the kidney or a harsh connection to the jaw, but at times he’s also a master patchwork quilt artist. . . . Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power are the eternal quintet that has burdened and uplifted us, and in the masterful hands of David Shields they’re illuminated in a dangerous, brilliant, eternal light.” —Christopher John Stephens, PopMatters
“In this bold mixture of stark honesty and humor, Shields . . . ponders how sex, love, attraction, and power all coalesce to both fortify and complicate the human mating experience. . . . Entertaining and contemplative, Shields offers focused philosophy and effervescent wisdom on some of society’s knottiest topics.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Shields does all this using his trademark technique of appropriating and collaging text from other writers, including himself, and laying it out in a way that creates a new form of narrative, one that is both unfailingly personal and yet still manages to render everything—the reader included—a part of everything else. Which is both sobering and electrifying.” —Cathy Alter, Guernica
“David Shields is one of the most interesting people around at the moment. . . . [He has written] a tender yet deeply unsettling book on sex and marriage. The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power can be read during one extended session in the bathtub, but the repercussions from Shields’s collage of ideas feel like a thunderclap. . . . [I]t burns down into your deepest and darkest places and remains there like wasabi for the soul.”—Dorothy Woodend, Tyee