Posts Tagged ‘Dave Eggers’

Monday Medley

What we read while Dallas finally made up for killing Kennedy…
  • Why the “College degrees don’t mean much” stories are wrong — and always have been.

Monday Medley

What we read while celebrating the independence of our nation by blowing up a small part of it…

  • We had endless fun with the worst sentences of the year, but our personal favorite might have to be the following: “As Holmes, who had a nose for danger, quietly fingered the bloody knife and eyed the various body parts strewn along the dark, deserted highway, he placed his ear to the ground and, with his heart in his throat, silently mouthed to his companion, ‘Arm yourself, Watson, there is an evil hand afoot ahead.'”
  • The answer appears to be “No,” but the question in the subhead–“Could a brain parasite found in cats help soccer teams win at the World Cup?”–is undeniably intriguing.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the Modern Memoir

“Everything that happens to us leaves traces, everything contributes imperceptibly to our development.”


There’s a hardcover edition of Dave Eggers’ first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, in which the text of the story actually starts on the book’s cover. There is no title page or copyright or About the Author; the story comprises the entire book, literally cover to cover.

I point this out because A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius does the same thing, albeit less obviously. Eggers’ memoir also starts on the front cover, what with its over-the-top title and  overtly pretentious cover art (by Komar and Melamid). In other words, if I’m judging this book by its cover, I’m guessing it’s written by Eckhart Tolle.

Once inside, the book includes a page that simply says “This was uncalled for” before a copyright page that includes a “sexual orientation scale,”* a “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoying this Book,” a preface, and an acknowledgements section that runs 25 pages, outlines his main themes, and concludes with a drawing of a stapler.

*With one being perfectly straight and 10 perfectly gay, Eggers gives himself a three.

One of those Eggers-elucidated main themes is “The Painfully, Endlessly Self-Conscious Book Aspect” which he immediately concedes is “probably obvious enough already.” This theme itself is broken into a second part: “The Knowingness about the Book’s Self-Conscious Aspect.”

Now, when you’re reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and you get to this part, where you haven’t even started the “text” yet, you have an important decision to make. If you scoff and find Eggers’ theatricality a bit smarmy and think “Enough already” or “Get on with it,” then you should probably stop there. He has alienated you, and you will not like him. But if, like me, this is essentially what you yourself would like to write one day (although now noting that your acknowledgements page will have to pay debt to Eggers’, adding another layer of self-consciousness), A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius might just live up to its title. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade in Literature, Part II

In case you missed Part I of our quick glimpses of the decade’s most noteworthy fiction, you can check it out here.

White Teeth — Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith’s first novel came out in the first month of the Aughts, and seemed to be an important, symbolic moment for literature at large. For one, it led critic James Wood to coin the term “hysterical realism,” a catch-all term for the kind of “big novel” Smith and many other young writers of this decade were writing. While the term was used pejoratively, it is an important indicator of the ambition of certain modern novelists. Smith’s novel traces two families through the entire second half of the century, covering World War II and the 1990s. The scope is an important theme, highlighting the grasp past events have on our modern lives, whether we like it or not.

–John S

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius — Dave Eggers

The novelistic memoir that propelled Eggers to full-on Voice of the Generation stature, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius does its best to live up to its name. Eggers manages to be meta without being condescending and to be funny without sacrificing poignancy. In crafting a deeply personal story that resonates universally, Eggers proved—for the first time—that he is a fascinating and compelling storyteller of the highest order.


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Zeitoun and the Art of the Soft Sell

Note to all potential readers of Zeitoun: It is located in the Biography section at Barnes & Noble, not, as one who has read Dave Eggers’ other more-or-less-based-on-real-life-if-slightly-fictionalized works might suspect, in the Fiction/Literature section. Furthermore, remember that, in the Biography section, it is alphabetized by subject and not author; this is because people don’t really care who writes a biography.

This is the weird circumstance of Zeitoun, a biography about a man—and more accurately, a family—who is much less famous than the biographer. Eggers is one of a handful of writers universally included in any conversation about the “Voice of the Generation”—consideration earned largely off of his almost-living-up-to-the-title A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Now, if you know anything about “VotG” discussion, you know that authors don’t stumble their way into such territory by keeping things simple and straightforward and understated. You have to do something pretty out-there, and you have to do it really, really well. That’s what Eggers pulled off in A Heartbreaking  Work, a memoir focused on how the deaths of the author’s parents and his subsequent raising of his much younger brother. It is a very personal book—obvs—detailing not only Eggers’ guilt-inducing desire to avoid walking through the room containing his dying mother, but also more mundane things like his unabashed appreciation for Journey* and his own masturbatory habits.**

*It was written in 2000, well before “Don’t Stop Believin’” was aired on Laguna Beach and became cool to like again. How do I know this? Because you couldn’t get away with writing something like “I worry about exposing him to bands like Journey, the appreciation of which will surely bring him nothing but the opprobrium of his peers” today.

**They were T.M.I. in his book; they’d be beyond that in this review.

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Monday Medley

What we read while making sure OUR balloons were properly secured….

    • One week after Esquire came out with its “Sexiest Woman Alive” issue, GQ did its best to top its rival. And, well, Kate Beckinsale: You’re on notice. (And just in case you’re reading, January, we like beer and pizza, too! Like, a lot!)