The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead by David Shields
Personal memoir and statistical enumeration intertwine in David Shields’ genre-defying reflection upon death.
Shields’ (I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, 2015, etc.) unique memoir is a meditation upon life’s brevity and its eventual end. Anecdotes of the author’s youth and that of his father punctuate chapters for every stage of life, each of which is so packed with biological data that the book sometimes reads like a laundry list of human existence. Readers learn that I.Q. is the highest between the ages of 18 and 25, that people are at their most creative in their 30s, that strength and coordination peak at 19, that lung capacity decreases 1% each year between the ages of 20 and 60, and much, much more. Shields is also forthcoming about his own physical decline (“I walk around with an ice pack stuck in one coat pocket and a baggie of ibuprofen in the other. I’m not exactly the king of the jungle.” ) while grousing about his father’s interminable virility. On the subject of death, the two take opposing stances. Shields devotes his energy to accepting and even preparing for the inevitable, while his father, who Shields recalls doing roadside jumping jacks on long family car trips and adhering to an ascetic diet throughout his life, is a potential acolyte for Ray Kurzweil’s immortality movement (mentioned in a chapter entitled “How to Live Forever (ii)”), and a subscriber to the point of view espoused by Woody Allen when he said “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”  Shields sprinkles this and similar quotations from personalities ranging from Nabokov to Ice-T liberally throughout The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead, further scattering a narrative that skips chaotically across the surface of his topic.
The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead is a disjointed memoir that at its core is a memento mori, a reminder of life’s impermanence.