Book Cover

The Trouble with Men

Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power

David Shields

188 pp. 5.5 x 8.5
Pub Date: February, 2019

Subjects: Creative Nonfiction

Series: 21st Century Essays

Imprint: Mad Creek

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ISBN 978-0-8142-5519-3
Order PDF ebook$14.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-7676-1

"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)— about sex, self-knowledge and the “theater” of our wounds. Can we recover from who we are? Would we want to?"—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

“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

“[A] brilliant writer’s look into male toxicity. . . . Revealing and confessional to the point of exhibitionism, personal to the point of shock. [Shields’s] book is addressed to his wife about the most private things one could imagine, but he’s doing something incredibly rare in this book and doing it in a way that is undeniably powerful and thoughtful. Here [is a writer who has] found a way to face a tortuous historical moment squarely and with neither cowardice nor confusion.” —Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

“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

“His honesty would be startling if we didn’t already expect just this from David Shields: a willingness to ask what no one wants to ask (but everyone longs to know) and say what no one will say (but everyone longs to hear).” —Sallie Tisdale

“A fearless consideration of sex and power that is also a moving meditation on the possibility of love.” —Amy Fusselman

“This extraordinary, revelatory, brilliant book is a riveting exploration of sadism and masochism and, more importantly, the hold these powerful poles have on all of our psyches—how SM can creep into a marriage, turning and twisting it until it resembles something pornographic. At the same time that Shields explores these impulses, he wrestles with the concept of privacy. How much can one reveal about one’s deepest desires? Can one explore one’s marriage and still stay in it? Can writing and marriage coexist if the writer wants to be nakedly, brutally truthful about himself/herself? What matters more—the ties that bind us to each other or the blank page demanding the dark ink of honesty? The reader is held enthralled, watching with ever widening eyes, unable to turn away.” —Lauren Slater

“David Shields is the most honest writer alive.” —John Skoyles

“A great book, which deserves a wide readership. No one else does what Shields does: the breadth of his cultural references; the depth of his intellectual and emotional investigation, which never feels didactic; and the utterly original way in which he combines personal experience, literary criticism, and quotation to explore all aspects of sentient life and culture.” —Susan Daitch

“On the surface, this book is very serious and risky, but there’s a wink, and the wink comes in the construction. Shields says extraordinarily candid things and then, instead of weighing the reader down with all these experiences, memories, questions, desires, and analyses, he brings in echoing and countering voices of ancient and modern writers that lift the book right back up into the air. This technique and the brevity make the book both intimate and universal.” —Whitney Otto

“I’ve often wondered whether a married person can write about sex and love with any degree of candor and hope to stay married. David Shields’s answer: a book that is dangerously, melancholically truthful but also an elegant work of art. The Trouble with Men is unexpectedly moving and sneakily profound.”—Laura Kipnis

“I have long admired David Shields and his literary departures, but The Trouble with Men is a departure from the departures. I’m haunted by this book, also a little obsessed with it, confused by it, afraid of it, angry at it, in awe of it, thankful for it.” —Meghan Daum

“In an era of reckonings, The Trouble with Men, nearly gymnastic in structure, is a timely and trenchant book unlike anything I’ve read before: stabbing, with confessional and sharp-witted boldness, into big themes of sex and love and power.” —Cathy Alter

The Trouble with Men is truly great, and I mean it—a great book such as no one has ever written. Montaigne and Rousseau are the clear predecessors, but they pulled their punches. Shields is riskier and more down-to-earth, his obsessiveness is on target, and he strikes home.” —Peter Brooks

“In our culture at this moment, the prevailing discussion of the way relationships work between groups and between individuals often leaves no space for contradiction. The Trouble with Men cuts deep, making the conversation more satisfyingly messy. It does this through lacerating self-examination and a complexly organized symphony of voices and sources (from scholarly to pop) circling one another, sometimes harmoniously and sometimes in conflict. I find the book more beautiful and affirmative in its confusion, self-doubt, and embarrassment than many of the (even well-intentioned) narratives about gender we’re forcing down each other’s throats right now.” —Elizabeth Cooperman

“The most original, insightful, and heartbreaking book about sexual desire since Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse. No contemporary writer writes with the honesty, ingenuity, and originality that David Shields brings to the notoriously slippery subject of erotic love. Lovers’ quarrels, lovers’ lies, lovers’ madnesses, first love, and how to love: it’s all here. Devastating, inspiring, and totally enthralling.” —Clancy Martin

“Smart, ecstatic, subdued, clever, genuine, fearful, and brave, all at once. This is a beautiful book.” —Lisa Taddeo

“Do I love you? Do you love me? What kind of marriage do we want? How real? Do you like me? Do you care about me? Are you in love with me? Do you love making love with me? Do you like being married to me? Do you love being married to me? A playful, sneaky, rangy, pulsating, vertiginous, and invaluable investigation into these questions, which belong to all of us.” —Katherine Standefer

“Writers have always thrived on their conflicting impulses toward personal confession and universal significance. Shields exposes that conflict and pushes it to the limit. Readers will be electrified and frankly amazed, not so much by the completeness of the confession as the personal circumstances in which it is made. And amazed again when, in the space of a few lines, the personal and particular are submerged in a turbulent ocean of collective longing and frustration.” —Tim Parks

In The Trouble with Men, when Shields pushes his own incisive shards up against those of dozens of other writers, the fragments touch upon one another in startling ways. The result is a poetic, unique, and powerful mosaic.” —Melanie Thernstrom

“I’ve read all of Shields’s books, and this is my favorite: the most genuinely vulnerable thing he has written. That said, the vulnerability isn’t maudlin or grotesque; it sneaks through, though it’s unmistakably there. And the self-reflexive gestures (the way in which he’s interrogating the book even as he’s composing it) are more powerful than ever here. I love the humor in concert with the wide-open danger. It’s as though he’s troubled by the material and trying to know the material but not know it too well. There were moments in the last third when I had to stand up because I couldn’t read it sitting down.” —Peter Mountford

“The most boldly naked book I've ever read.” —Matthew Vollmer

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 cont ours 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 MagazineHarper’sEsquireYale ReviewSalonSlateMcSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.

Contents

I           Let’s Say I’m Writing a Love Letter to You

II          The Four People in Every Bedroom

III         This Is the Part Where You’re Supposed to Say You Love Me

IV         Porn: An Interlude

V          Life Is Tragic (Everybody Knows It)

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