bookshelf photo with text saying "Book Review"

What Writers Talk About When They Talk About Themselves — I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel by David Shields & Caleb Powell

cover imageI was totally disappointed in I Think You’re Totally Wrong by David Shields and Caleb Powell. From the reviews I saw, I was expecting a My Dinner With Andre-type of book – a book made up entirely of an extended conversation between a younger and an older writer, off for a weekend trip, who would branch off into a wide range of other topics, but always be circling around the art of writing.

And, actually, I suppose, that’s what I got, but their conversation was boring. Maybe because I wasn’t familiar with either of the authors to begin with? They argued and seemed to be competitive in their work (their relationship was originally teacher-student) but a few weeks after finishing the book the only thing I can remember was that they argued over whether Caleb (the younger of the two) should drink a beer on a summer weekend morning while mowing the lawn or if that signified a drinking problem.

Here’s the opening paragraph of The Boston Globe review that probably put I Think You’re Totally Wrong on my radar:

“You probably think of me as — I don’t know — neurotic, overly interior, solipsistic, whatever. But I find you extremely didactic, moralistic, polemical, self-righteous, preachy. Is that unfair?” Whether David Shields’s accusation, directed at his friend and former student Caleb Powell, is fair, is best left to the judgment of readers. That it is outrageously entertaining, as is the rest of this talking book, constructed out of four days’ worth of unceasing dialogue between two old friends and sometime rivals, should go without saying.

I Think You’re Totally Wrong is published as fiction, which is another thing that made me think it would be more interesting, as real conversations are usually never as good as fictionalized ones. This excerpt is from the publisher’s description:

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.

I did finish the book, but I was clearly not the best reader for it. Could be I’m just not cool enough for this book; the Globe review goes on to report that James Franco – another former student of David Shields’ – is adapting it to film.

Have you read this and think I’m totally wrong? What book would you suggest I read, instead, to listen in on writers talking about writing and their lives?

Disclosure: Borrowed from the public library – thankfully!

I Think You’re Totally Wrong
Shields, David & Powell, Caleb
Knopf Doubleday, Jan 2015
272 pp. (lots of white space)


2 thoughts on “What Writers Talk About When They Talk About Themselves — I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel by David Shields & Caleb Powell”

    1. It got good reviews from newspapers and magazines. I didn’t have time to look for reviews on other blogs before posting this time, but I don’t see any this morning after googling a bit (and getting sidetracked on a lot of other book blogs)!

Would love to have you comment!