Reading Frenzy + Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Well I am finally getting around to my first actual post on this blog, which I had big dreams of starting in the fall of 2010. Twenty-eleven, however, seems geared up to provide me with all sorts of blog-worthy substance.

I want to read all the time.

I want to read all the time.

One change that’s recently come over me is a voracious desire to read—all the time. For the past several weeks, I’ve been whipping out a book everywhere I go.

In the morning, after pressing the snooze button a dozen or so times and rolling over grumpily to start my day, the first thing I reach for is my latest read. On the subway in torrential rush-hour traffic (or on the platform watching three, four trains go by before inserting myself into one like a Tetris piece), there’s me with a book. During lulls (also, rushes) at work, you can find me discreetly scanning pages of fiction.

The main impetus for this shift in reading behaviour was my suddenly getting a few really great book recommendations from friends and colleagues, including Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In rather un-typical Hilary fashion, I followed up on this immediately, resulting in my devouring one of the best books I’ve ever read.

(I love it when I can add new stuff to ‘favourites’ lists!)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Narcissism in a Nutshell

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a loosely fictionalized memoir of Dave Eggers’ life in his twenties. It was recommended to me because of rough parallels between the story and my life last year. As I was in a constant head-state of “no one understands what I’m going through,” I decided to read about someone whose situation was decidedly worse than mine.

A Heartbreaking Work is not a book for everyone. In fact, there are some pretty scathing reviews (read them here) that make me want to second-guess my affections for this book. This review, for example, is a caustic but extremely accurate imitation of Eggers’ style—sprawling, meta-on-so-many-levels-your-head-wants-to-explode, bitter and snobbish and self-loathing and passionate all at once. At some points in the book, it gets on your nerves, and you want to really just read a regular sentence again. At some points, Eggers’ completely self-absorbed nature and complete callousness makes you hate him. At some points, the book is so self-referential that you cannot in any way relate to what is going on.

So why do I love it so much?

It is the most real thing I have read in a long time.

In actuality, most people are self-absorbed. People do things and react to the world in a way that has the highest chance of getting them what they want. More money for less work? Yes, please. More sex with hotter people? Yes, please. More friends for less effort? Sure thing. Everyone (except for those rare altruists among us) is like this. But no one wants to admit it, or write from that point of view.

Eggers grew up in a home with alcoholic and mildly abusive parents, who then both died within months of each other, when Eggers was twenty-two (don’t worry, I didn’t ruin the book for you). Afterwards, Eggers becomes the guardian of his much younger brother, 7-year-old Toph. The story follows these events, which you have to admit, kind of suck.

Eggers plays the sympathy card when talking about his parents, but, at the same time, comments on how pathetic that is. He plays the hero card, when dealing with his newfound parental role, but also points out how misguided that vision of himself is. He even plays the creative-artist-genius card, but, you guessed it, exposes that he really knows nothing and it’s all been done before.

Dave Eggers

Author Dave Eggers

This book is an account of the inherently narcissistic nature of humans, and it’s the truest account of Eggers’ story that he could have written. I know, because I am exactly like him (in girl form). I was stunned at how, with every turn of the page, there was written a sentence that could have been extracted from my own brain and placed in Eggers’ book. Thoughts that run through my head daily—a vicious, incompatible mix of ‘poor me,’ ‘I’m awesome,’ ‘life’s great,’ ‘life sucks,’ ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘my life makes me a better person,’ ‘I wish I had it easier,’ ‘I’m independent,’ ‘I crave love and attention,’ and ‘I want to make something worthwhile and beautiful’—are all right there on the page in print.

Eggers is intolerably judgemental about his own nature and the nature of others, but, ironically, by being ultra honest and brandishing all facets of how his mind works, the whole comes across as a very non-judgemental exposé of Eggers simply as he is. He is callous and egotistical and dripping with ideals and only really gives a shit about his little brother—and all of that is perfectly okay, because it’s real.

If you want to read a nice story with an eventful, coherent plot; a protagonist you can be fond of; or a satisfying ending, then this book is definitely not for you. If you want to read a book that throws the blaring, hypocritical, nasty, boring, desperately hopeful and impossibly sad truth of what it is to be human right at you, and smacks you in the face with it, then give this one a read.

 

Well I am finally getting around to my first actual post on this blog, which I had big dreams of starting in the fall of 2010. Twenty-eleven, however, seems geared up to provide me with all sorts of blog-worthy substance.

One change that’s recently come over me is a voracious desire to read—all the time. For the past several weeks, I’ve been whipping out a book everywhere I go.

In the morning, after pressing the snooze button a dozen or so times and rolling over grumpily to start my day, the first thing I reach for is my latest read. On the subway in torrential rush-hour traffic (or on the platform watching three, four trains go by before inserting myself into one like a Tetris piece), there’s me with a book. During lulls (also, rushes) at work, you can find me discreetly scanning pages of fiction.

The main impetus for this shift in reading behaviour was my suddenly getting a few really great book recommendations from friends and colleagues, including Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In rather un-typical Hilary fashion, I followed up on this immediately, resulting in my devouring one of the best books I’ve ever read.

(I love it when I can add new stuff to ‘favourites’ lists!)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a loosely fictionalized memoir of Dave Eggers’ life in his twenties. It was recommended to me because of rough parallels between the story and my life last year. As I was in a constant head-state of “no one understands what I’m going through,” I decided to read about someone whose situation was decidedly worse than mine.

A Heartbreaking Work is not a book for everyone. In fact, there are some pretty scathing reviews (read them here) that make me want to second-guess my affections for this book. This review, for example, is a caustic but extremely accurate imitation of Eggers’ style—sprawling, meta-on-so-many-levels-your-head-wants-to-explode, bitter and snobbish and self-loathing and passionate all at once. At some points in the book, it gets on your nerves, and you want to really just read a regular sentence again. At some points, Eggers’ completely self-absorbed nature and complete callousness makes you hate him. At some points, the book is so self-referential that you cannot in any way relate to what is going on.

So why do I love it so much?

It is the most real thing I have read in a long time.

In actuality, most people are self-absorbed. People do things and react to the world in a way that has the highest chance of getting them what they want. More money for less work? Yes, please. More sex with hotter people? Yes, please. More friends for less effort? Sure thing. Everyone (except for those rare altruists among us) is like this. But no one wants to admit it, or write from that point of view.

Eggers grew up in a home with alcoholic and mildly abusive parents, who then both died within months of each other, when Eggers was twenty-two (don’t worry, I didn’t ruin the book for you). Afterwards, Eggers becomes the guardian of his much younger brother, 7-year-old Toph. The story follows these events, which you have to admit, kind of suck.

Eggers plays the sympathy card when talking about his parents, but, at the same time, comments on how pathetic that is. He plays the hero card, when dealing with his newfound parental role, but also points out how misguided that vision of himself is. He even plays the creative-artist-genius card, but, you guessed it, exposes that he really knows nothing and it’s all been done before.

This book is an account of the inherently narcissistic nature of humans, and it’s the truest account of Eggers’ story that he could have written. I know, because I am exactly like him (in girl form). I was stunned at how, with every turn of the page, there was written a sentence that could have been extracted from my own brain and placed in Eggers’ book. Thoughts that run through my head daily—a vicious, incompatible mix of ‘poor me,’ ‘I’m awesome,’ ‘life’s great,’ ‘life sucks,’ ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘my life makes me a better person,’ ‘I wish I had it easier,’ ‘I’m independent,’ ‘I crave love and attention,’ and ‘I want to make something worthwhile and beautiful’—are all right there on the page in print.

Eggers is intolerably judgemental about his own nature and the nature of others, but, ironically, by being ultra honest and brandishing all facets of how his mind works, the whole comes across as a very non-judgemental exposé of Eggers simply as he is. He is callous and egotistical and dripping with ideals and only really gives a shit about his little brother—and all of that is perfectly okay, because it’s real.

If you want to read a nice story with an eventful, coherent plot; a protagonist you can be fond of; or a satisfying ending, then this book is definitely not for you. If you want to read a book that throws the blaring, hypocritical, nasty, boring, desperately hopeful and impossibly sad truth of what it is to be human right at you, and smacks you in the face with it, then give this one a read.

The Calm Before the Storm

In a little while there’ll be a whirr of activity here. Until then, this blog sleeps.