Other People: Takes and Mistakes

David Shields. Knopf, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-35199-7

This kitchen-sink compendium of Shield’s work runs the gamut of subject matter and quality. The high points include sharply observed pieces that aren’t quite conventional profiles, such as an appreciation of the actor Bill Murray and a portrait of the University of Washington women’s basketball teammates who revived a star player after she went into cardiac arrest. There are plenty of low points, too, including short pieces of sexual memoir and musings on desire that read as solipsistic. His portrait of radio personality Delilah and her predominantly female audience is economical, evocative, and revealing. In this selection, Shields deftly shows rather than tells, forging a sense of connection to his subject. Many of the best pieces are about sports, including a meditation on Shields’s love for sports movies and an exploration of baseball players whose patterns of thinking impaired their game. Failure typically plays a role in the best pieces, sometimes ruining personal interactions, sometimes inhibiting performance. Though there is a bit too much self-exploration, the persistent bite-size introspections help the reader better appreciate how well Shields can look at others. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb.)