Within seconds of reading aloud his 2018 book on Donald Trump, visiting writer David Shields had already veered off into unfamiliar terrain, citing a “NOVA” episode called “Extreme Animal Weapons” in an effort to explain the dynamics between Trump and his parents. The back row chuckled in response, earning a pause from Shields.
“You know, it is supposed to be funny,” he said to the audience.
Shields, who appeared at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center on Thursday night, has written upwards of 20 books since his first in 1984.
His latest book takes the form of a letter to his wife, titled “The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power.”
The book, much like his study of Trump, is shaped from essay fragments. Shields jumps from one thing to the next, the essayist’s answer to stream-of-consciousness. When asked by an audience member how he kept it all straight, Shields seemed barely to know the answer himself.
His book on the president, “Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump,” started out at a monstrous size before being whittled down to a modest page count more appropriate for a paperback.
Its original size was a testament to how much research had gone into the book. If people think artists no longer suffer, Shields said, then they haven’t heard about all the episodes of “The Apprentice” that he’d watched in order to write the book.
In another excerpt from the Trump book, Shields describes the opening scene of one of those episodes: in the rear of a limo, Trump speaks to his wife over the phone. Pre-recorded baby cooing his heard before the future president signs off: “Goodbye, Barron. Take care of yourself.”
Sprinkled between absurdly comedic observations are Shields’s more substantive notes. He writes about Trump’s career, his dealings with Fox News and his barely-there relationship with his parents. Shields doesn’t quite criticize Trump, but instead attempts to understand him—though sometimes the two seem inextricable.
The same seems to be true of “The Trouble with Men.” Shields aims to interrogate his marriage and his own identity through the letter to his wife, but he can’t help find some shortcomings along the way. As for the recipient of the letter, Shields said, she’s read the book. But it’s not exactly something that they talk about.
Shields did not read from “The Trouble with Men,” which he said reads better on the page, opting instead to read from two essays he wrote in support of the book. Those essays were more cohesive, though still peppered with interruptions from Shields’s wife, whom he asked questions about their marriage in real time.
Shields’s evening at the Cultural Arts Center was one of the last creative writing events of the year, with the school year coming to a close this upcoming Thursday, when the final Pure Products reading takes place at Monarch Espresso Bar.