David Shields Dead Languages

ISBN 13: 9780060972912

Dead Languages

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9780060972912: Dead Languages

Washington State Book Award, 1990
Silver Medal, Commonwealth Club of California Book Awards, 1990


From the moment his mother tries unsuccessfully to coax him into saying "Philadelphia," Jeremy Zorn's life is framed by his unwieldy attempts at articulation. Through family rituals with his word-obsessed parents and sister, failed first love, an ill-fated run for class president, as the only Jewish boy on an otherwise all-black basketball team, all of the passages of Jeremy's life are marked in some way by his stutter and his wildly off-the-mark attempts at a cure. It is only when he enters college and learns his strong-willed mother is dying that he realizes all languages, when used as hiding places for the heart, are dead ones.

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From the Back Cover:

From the moment his mother tries unsuccessfully to coax him into saying "Philadelphia," Jeremy Zorn's life is framed by his unwieldy attempts at articulation. Through family rituals with his word-obsessed parents and sister, failed first love, an ill-fated run for class president, as the only Jewish boy on an otherwise all-black basketball team, all of the passages of Jeremy's life are marked in some way by his stutter and his wildly off-the-mark attempts at a cure. It is only when he enters college and learns his strong-willed mother is dying that he realizes all languages, when used as hiding places for the heart, are dead ones.

A huge outpouring of praise has greeted David Shields's "astonishing and mordantly witty tour de force" (Lynne Sharon Schwartz) Dead Languages, the story of a boy who grows up stuttering so badly that he comes to worship words.  Jeremy Zorn is born into a family in which language is seen as the path to success.  His mother, a strong-willed journalist, attempts to cure Jeremy's stutter when he is four and leads him on his long journey to discover a way to overcome his affliction.  Singing, whispering, muteness, Latin conjunctions, a bit part in a major play, even a pseudosuicide are some of the strategies to which he turns, but by the time he enters college and learns that his mother is dying he realizes that all languages, when used as hiding places for the heart, are dead ones.  David Shields has written a novel that is not only a classic coming-of-age story but remarkably moving exploration of the difficulties we all have expressing love.

"An astonishing and mordantly witty tour de force. David Shields, a virtuoso of the written word, manages to make the halting, self-conscious agonies of his stuttering hero into a metaphor for all our disjointed, doomed attempts at self-definition through connection. He has transcended his subject and written a book that will touch everyone who has suffered over the inadequacies of speech to sustain life and love."--Lynne Sharon Schwartz

About the Author:

David Shields's new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, was published by Knopf in 2010. His previous book, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, (Knopf, 2008), was a New York Times bestseller. He is the author of eight other books, including Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity, winner of the PEN/Revson Award; and Dead Languages: A Novel, winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. His essays and stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney's, and Utne Reader; he's written reviews for the New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Boston Globe, and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Shields has received a Guggenheim fellowship, two NEA fellowships, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation grant, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is a professor in the English department at the University of Washington. Since 1996 he has also been a member of the faculty in Warren Wilson College's low-residency MFA Program for Writers, in Asheville, North Carolina. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.

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