I Think You’re Totally Wrong by David Shields and Caleb Powell

Find in catalogWhen I first heard about “I Think You’re Totally Wrong” I was quite intrigued.  After all, the book jacket promises an “impassioned, funny, probing, fiercely inconclusive, nearly-to-the-death debate about life and art.”  I love nothing more than a debate about life and art.  At the very least, it sounded entertaining.

The set-up is pretty straightforward.  David Shields, a writer-in-residence at the University of Washington, invites his former student Caleb Powell to spend four days together in a cabin in the Cascades to create a literary version of “My Dinner with Andre.”  In their “quarrel,” Shields, who’s written 16 books, would represent “art.”  Powell, who’s worked construction and taught ESL on six continents, represents “life.”

The book is of unusual construction.  The two men recorded their conversations and present an edited transcript, assembled in chronological order, with sections varying from a few lines to up to four pages in length.   To me, their conversations seem somewhat stilted and self-conscious, with surprisingly little difference between the two men.

But, it’s not just a book!  James Franco has directed a film version, in which Shields and Powell, play what they call “a version of themselves” as they act out the transcript of their conversation.  It premiered last month at Vancouver’s DOXA film festival in the “Satire and Subversion” category.

I have to confess, this was not a book I would have finished reading if it weren’t for this review.  I found it a little sad.  As Shields says, partway through Day 2, “It’s an ancient form: two white guys [B.S.]-ing.  I also like the idea of us asking ourselves, Why are we even doing this?  Why aren’t we home with our wives and children?”

I wondered the same thing. – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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