UW News

January 6, 2015

New David Shields book a collaboration, an argument — and a movie, too

UW News

"I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel," by David Shields and Caleb Powell, published January 2015 by Knopf.

“I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel,” by David Shields and Caleb Powell, published January 2015.Knopf

Two men, four days, one cabin and an ongoing, sometimes combative discussion of life and art. Oh, and there’s a film crew on hand, too, cameras running — with James Franco directing.

That’s the setup for the latest book by University of Washington English Professor and New York Times best-selling author David Shields, author of 15 books, including “Reality Hunger” and “How Literature Saved My Life.”

The new book, published today (Jan. 6) by Knopf, is “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel,” a book-length discussion Shields created with former UW student Caleb Powell. Press notes for the book call it “a debate, nearly to the death, about life and art, cocktails included.”

The two conversational opponents also wryly state their perspectives in those advance notes: Powell, a stay-at-home father of three daughters, “always wanted to become an artist, but he overcommitted to life.” Shields, his former professor,
“always wanted to become a human being, but he has overcommitted to art.”

Upcoming book appearances:
Jan. 16, Elliott Bay Books, Seattle, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5, Third Place Books, Seattle, time TBA.
Movie release date announced:
The film of “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel” will premiere at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, B.C., April 30 to May 15, 2015.

Shields and Powell spent four days in a cabin in the Cascades in December 2013, hiking, shooting hoops, playing chess, watching movies and quarreling over life and art. The movies were appropriately chosen for a two-man road trip: “My Dinner With Andre,” “The Trip” and the 2004 wine comedy “Sideways.”

Disagreeing, it seems, came naturally: “Caleb and I have what
he calls a ‘natural reverse dynamic.’ We can’t be together for 30 seconds without arguing,” Shields said during the filming. “I was so eager to defeat Caleb in the argument that I was all but oblivious of the cameras. Caleb seemed to feel the same way.”

When a real-life disagreement cropped up, Shields said, “James urged us to explore that, we did, and in effect that became the film.”

Shields, who has worked with several co-authors and has books in process with still more, said he and his old student bring out a sort of “creative tension” in each other.

David Shields, left, and Caleb Powell, authors of "I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel."

David Shields, left, and Caleb Powell.

“Usually, I use my own ambivalence as the staging ground for my own intellectual and literary investigations, but in this instance Caleb was the active manifestation of the necessary conflict of all literary work, and I think the book and film work really well, because, in a sense, Caleb and I ‘complete’ each other.

“We’re like an old, arguing married couple. Or together we’re a ‘complete person.’ At least complete co-authors.”

Early reviews of the book are very positive, calling the work entertaining, charming, passionate and contentious. Publishers Weekly dubbed it “a worthy and important” addition to the book-in-dialogue genre, adding, “this casual conversation pushes readers to rethink fundamental questions about life and art.”

Or, as another reviewer wrote, it was “a weekend retreat when nobody was retreating.”