A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

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Dave Eggers is a terrifically talented writer; don't hold his cleverness against him. What to make of a book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Based on a True Story? For starters, there's a good bit of staggering genius before you even get to the true story, including a preface, a list of "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book," and a 20-page acknowledgements section complete with special mail-in offer, flow chart of the book's themes, and a lovely pen-and-ink drawing of a stapler (helpfully labeled "Here is a drawing of a stapler:").

But on to the true story. At the age of 22, Eggers became both an orphan and a "single mother" when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labor, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters, and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother's upbringing manically fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey's Hiroshima.)

The book is also, perhaps less successfully, about being young and hip and out to conquer the world (in an ironic, media-savvy, Gen-X way, naturally). In the early '90s, Eggers was one of the founders of the very funny Might Magazine, and he spends a fair amount of time here on Might, the hipster culture of San Francisco's South Park, and his own efforts to get on to MTV's Real World. This sort of thing doesn't age very well--but then, Eggers knows that. There's no criticism you can come up with that he hasn't put into A.H.W.O.S.G. already. "The book thereafter is kind of uneven," he tells us regarding the contents after page 109, and while that's true, it's still uneven in a way that is funny and heartfelt and interesting.

All this self-consciousness could have become unbearably arch. It's a testament to Eggers's skill as a writer--and to the heartbreaking particulars of his story--that it doesn't. Currently the editor of the footnote-and-marginalia-intensive journal McSweeney's (the last issue featured an entire story by David Foster Wallace printed tinily on its spine), Eggers comes from the most media-saturated generation in history--so much so that he can't feel an emotion without the sense that it's already been felt for him. What may seem like postmodern noodling is really just Eggers writing about pain in the only honest way available to him. Oddly enough, the effect is one of complete sincerity, and--especially in its concluding pages--this memoir as metafiction is affecting beyond all rational explanation. --Mary Park

The literary sensation of the year, a book that redefines both family and narrative for the twenty-first century. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the moving memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is an instant classic that will be read in paperback for decades to come. The Vintage edition includes a new appendix by the author.

Customer Reviews:

  • Emotionally evocative, but wordy
    I bought this book because of all the rave reviews from critics and the because it was a Pulitzer finalist. I read the first one-third of the story and really enjoyed his candid writing style. I am from the Bay Area and too lost my mother at an early age, so I really related to both his accounts of Berkeley/SF life and people, as well as grieving the loss of a parent at a young age. His anger toward the insensitivity of others was frank. His urgency to protect his little brother from the realities of death and loss are memorable. His writing style is both vivid and candid, however very very detailed. At first this was interesting and kept my attention, but after the first 5 chapters or so, was a slow moving book. I found myself skipping chapters. Overall a decent read though. ...more info
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Breaking Character
    In the memoir "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers, it follows Dave's life after his Mother and Father die of cancer within a few weeks of each other and he is left as the legal guardian of his much younger brother Toph. The book shows what happens to Dave as he tries to be a parent, a brother, and a young adult.
    Dave writes the memoir like the thought process of a young adult. Instead of portraying himself as the lovable ideal protagonist, most readers will be able to identify with the sporadic and at times contradictory mind of the young adult that Dave portrays himself as. He tells his own thoughts that most people would be either too embarrassed or afraid to put down. After a friend threatens suicide he thinks, "[m]aybe he will do it. Maybe this is it. [...] I'll have a dead friend. Do I want a dead friend? Maybe I want a dead friend. There could be so many uses... No, I don't want a dead friend. Maybe I want a dead friend without having a friend who dies" (261). Although his thoughts can be very morbid, they are very daring. He uses a mature vocabulary, words that everyone can understand, and he does not hold back from what he views as important in telling his story.
    Dave starts off the preface by telling the reader how the book is not a complete work of nonfiction. This can be seen several times when characters break character such as after Toph goes on a rant and Dave responds with, "`[y]ou're breaking out of character again'" (316). By being this blunt, Dave gets his point across without having to make the reader assume anything. In one section of the preface he even comically has a guide to the symbols and metaphors he uses throughout the book. Dave can get his message across without it getting misinterpreted by one of the readers. Instead of the book having to be dissected for its meaning, Dave clearly lays it out. He does not portray the reader as and idiot just clearly states everything he means in order for the reader to fully understand the message and enjoy the memoir.
    By using this breaking character method, it can help him get his story across and helps him with the fluidity of the memoir. When he is being interviewed for a spot on "The Real World", the interviewer breaks character when she says, "'[s]o tell me something: This isn't really a transcript of the interview, is it?' 'No.' 'It's not much like the actual interview at all, is it?' 'Not that much, no.' 'This is a device, this interview style. Manufactured and fake.' 'It is.' 'It's a good device, though. Kind of catchall for a bunch of anecdotes that would be too awkward to force together otherwise.' 'Yes'" (196). Dave outright tells the reader that the scene they read did not occur at all like they read it but he wrote it like this to help him fit several anecdotes about his childhood into the same scene. Instead of awkwardly forcing them together, he finds a way to tell the truth but adjust how some of the events happened.
    Even though it is not one hundred percent accurate, Dave does not try to hide this. He wants to get his story across and at several times throughout the novel, tells the reader when scenes are highly exaggerated. Even though these scenes are exaggerated, the truth about what happened to him is being conveyed. Dave does not hold back from writing his own manic-depressive thoughts and goes into great detail on how he feels about certain events, even if it usually doesn't fit in the stereotype of the teenager on television, but one readers will be able to relate too even if they haven't gone through the same hardships Dave has gone through. Dave writes a memoir that should be read by all young adults and hopefully older readers will enjoy....more info
  • Disappointed my very high expectations, but enjoyable
    I decided to order this book because the title intrigued me and the few reviews I skimmed seemed to glow. Thus, when the book arrived, I put it on the top of my summer reading list and hurried to finish up the series I had already started, building the book up in my mind to be, as the title suggested, heartbreaking, staggering, and genius. Unfortunately, the book did not quite meet this vaulted expectations, but it was a good read nonetheless. Egger's is very quirky and portrays himself as an almost complete narcissist. He is needy, paranoid, and tragically flawed, but you can't help loving him, even if you occasionally wish you could reach into the space between the period and the Capital and smack the louse upside the head. Even in the throes of the descriptions of his paranoid ramblings on the imagined death of Toph, Eggers is heartbreakingly funny. I found myself throughout the narrative constantly wondering what he was going to do or say next and musing on prospective paper topics on the recreation of the postmodern memoir through the eyes of Eggers or the pseudo-parent-child relationship of Toph and Dave as a vehicle of and for narcissism. Although the prose sometimes seemed quite listless and I had momentary thoughts of quitting the book altogether, these quickly passed in a blaze of humor or compassion toward the heartbreaking story which is his story. Though by no means genius, Egger's work is both heartbreaking and staggering, but he forgot to mention hilarious....more info
  • Best book I read this year
    I loved it! I admit it started heavy and it was hard for me to continue, but as I read further I came to love the style in which it was written. I love the full on sarcasm that is prevalent throughout the book. Maybe it is too much for some, but I loved it. Some of the passages especially those regarding his brother Toph made me want to go back and reread them over and over. This is one of those rare books that made me feel, really feel something, laughter, anger, pain and at times it felt like "I" had been punched in the gut.

    I can not recommend it highly enough. ...more info
  • a heartbreaking work of staggering genius
    My high school book club wanted to read this book. It's a Catholic school and 2 students loved the book. I foraged through the whole thing looking for topics that would work with my students. Maybe I'm a prude but with so many expletives and other objectionable topics in this junker, I thought I could be hauled off to the "big house" if we read this book.

    Yes, Dave Eggers has done a truthful account of his life and I did feel for him at times, but the ending really made me feel ripped off and used....more info
  • An Outstanding Review of Exceptional Insight
    [Please realize I'm just being ironic with the title.]

    When I recently read Kerouac's "On the Road" I lamented that I read it too late in life for it to really change my life. "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" on the other hand I read at the exact right time. If I'd read it five years earlier or five years later I would have been out of touch with the material.

    The book opens (after the preface, which you can read or not--I skipped it) with Dave Eggers's mother dying of cancer. At the same time his father also has some kind of cancer, though this was a little less clear. After both parents succumb to their illness, the Eggers clan moves from their dull little Chicago suburb--the kind of place immortalized in John Hughes movies where the most exciting event was Mr. T moving in--to the Left Coast. Older brother Bill moves to LA where Dave, his sister Beth, and younger brother Christopher (called Toph) go to San Francisco. Because Bill is busy with work and Beth has school, Dave ends up caring for Toph.

    In a Hollywood version it would probably end up like "Mr. Mom" or "Mrs. Doubtfire" at this point with lots of slapstick as a slacker twentysomething has to care for a 10-year-old boy. In reality (or what's more or less reality) they live like college roommates in semi-squalor, constantly running late to various appointments. In general Toph is a good kid who doesn't create much trouble for Dave--doesn't start running with a gang or shooting drugs or torturing small animals. Not that it's all a breeze; most of the trouble is caused by trying to convince various private schools and such that Dave is Toph's guardian.

    Dave does temp jobs in graphic design while also working for "Might Magazine," an upstart youth culture magazine that like all of Gen X in the early-mid-'90s launches a futile rebellion for no real reason. (Come on, what the heck were we rebelling against with the grunge and Nirvana? I have no idea, really.) They pull stunts like try to audition for the "Real World" (when reality TV was a new concept) and fake the death of the kid from "Eight is Enough." From all appearances the magazine is never really that successful. I have a slight bit of knowledge in this area and know how tough it is, especially in this age where everyone can have a blog or website.

    What I think really resonates at this point is the experience of not just growing up, but your family growing up and growing apart. As a kid, most of us don't put too much thought into our parents always being there, but as we get older we realize our parents are all too human and prone to the same weaknesses as anyone else. At the same time, the siblings you used to spend so much time with eventually move away and develop lives of their own that you no longer are much of a part of and in time can become almost like strangers. But the good thing about "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is that Eggers never gets too weepy or maudlin to make the experience dreary or dull. Instead, his almost surreal descriptions tinge even the darkest moments like a friend in a coma and another who attempts suicide with dark humor. Dave's neurotic inner-life reminds me of a less-sexual "Portnoy's Complaint" by Philip Roth, only it's more or less real, which is more amazing.

    It might be interesting to read this book in five years and see how much it still resonates with me, or if by then this book and I grow apart as well. Wait and see.

    That is all. ...more info
  • One of My Favorites
    This book has been touted so heavily that expectations are probably way out of whack for some readers. But I just loved this book. Yes, Dave Eggers is youthful and arrogant and a little too clever, but this is a rare peek into the thinking of a guy in his 20's who is going through some major stuff with his sense of humor in tact. It's entertaining, touching and yeah, I thought it was a bit of genius....more info
  • never received it
    I never received this book because it got sent to the wrong address. I didn't find out till several weeks after I ordered it and reviewed the invoice in my email....more info
  • I really liked it until I didn't...
    I admit it. I enjoyed half of this book. The first half. Somewhere along the line, however, Dave Eggers starts sounding a little less bipolar and funny and a lot more whiny and childish. I stopped reading it. That's how bad it is. The first couple hundred pages are okay if not a little self indulgent. Look at me! I'm cool. I knew people from "The Real World." San Francisco... Woo Hoo. It's a bit much, but it's entertaining. That is until it just isn't anymore. His story is completely demolished by his delivery and the fact that his story, however sad or unfortunate, isn't all that special or unique or even interesting. Maybe if he didn't whine his way through chapter after chapter. Whoa is me. We get it Dave. The title is tongue in cheek, but you shouldn't name your book "genius" unless it's half way good and your book is only a third good if that. I'm heartbroken that I invested so much time in a book that I shelved without finishing. Read "What Is The What?" instead. Dave Eggers can write. No doubt. This just isn't his best work. ...more info
  • Good writing, but that's all
    There are lots of reviews to tell you what the book is about. Simply: it's about the short life of a guy who takes himself too seriously, feels his voice is important to a generation when in reality it's just another voice of another 20-something who's figured it all out, already. The redeeming quality of this book is the writing. Good writing. Worth reading, just don't buy it. Dust off that library card for this one since it probably won't find a spot on your keeper shelf....more info
  • Hyperboles Aside; Read It and See...
    "Well they say its kind of frightening how this younger generation swings, You know its more than just some new sensation... At an early age he hits the streets, wind up tied with who he meets / You know its more than just an aggravation." --David Lee Roth, from Van Halen's "The Cradle Will Rock," from their seminal 1980 work "Women and Children First"

    So it may be a little ridiculous starting off a literary review with some credible quasi-fiction book like Eggers, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," (heretoforeafter referred to as AHWOSG) but there is something in it that is pertinent, something I believe Eggers with his way of writing what is available to his mind at the moment, though seemingly irrelevant, would approve of. So to title your debut book, AHWOSG, borders on the absurd side of hyperboles, in the end when one is finished reading, this almost can't put down work...is not a far-off description. It's that good my friends, read on and you may be convinced.

    So back to David Lee Roth waxing poetic and philosophical, which are two descriptors rarely associated with the lyrical works of Van Halen, Roth years. What AHWOSG does, less concisely mind you, is capture a voice of a generation. The book does a lot of things, but this summing up of the Gen Y, the Internet Generation, or better yet, The YouTube Generation's media savvy need for an audience on a broad scale seems to be something Eggers does most successfully, Is it a generational treatise? Perhaps not quite that, because after all, can you capture in a work of literature all the voices, feelings, experiences of a whole generation. Probably not. But as Eggers proves, you can come pretty darn close.

    Just get a gander at this writing, before you go on to purchase this book (or however in your corner of the world you acquire fiction to consume), "What does it take to show you mf's, what does it freakin' take what do you want how much do you want because I am willing and I'll stand before you and I'll raise my arms and give you my chest and throat and wait, and I've been so old for so long, for you, for you, I want it fast and right through me---- Oh do it, do it, you mf's, do it do it you f's finally, finally, finally." That's the last passage from AHWOSG and it caps off a really really moving read. Those are the words from an author that really really craves an audience. And so it may be with a generation brought up on an expectation that it just isn't the "15 minutes of fame," we are all seeking and due...but the way one connects is through mass media. A mass audience validates ones existence or at the very least, helps them deal with any human pain they may be suffering in the present.

    Eggers, granted, has a lot of reasons to be experiencing angst. Whereas the Gen X'ers, my generation, are thought of as largely cynical with no clear valid reason to cop that permanent attitude, Egger's generation has plently of reason to be dislocated and distraught, the music of Radiohead only one small cultural influencer, not to mention 9/11, wars, real wars, not some mamby pamby skirmishes in Grenada and The Falklands. This is the generation that could very well go down in history as the Next Great Generation, following in the footsteps of the boomers who saved the world from certain peril during War War II.

    What is Eggers' AHWOSG like you may want to know? After all why would you still be reading my random stream-of-consciousness review...still? It's about loss, staggering loss. It's about coming of age prematurely when one's parents pass at age 22, leading to the taking on of guardianship for your younger high school aged brother. It's about the search for meaning in one's life through work, friends and family. It's about life, man, just read it and get back out there living it.

    To go on further may dilute any type of message I'm trying to send you with this review. What I'd like to do is just to convince you to read this book. You may in some small way find yourself looking at your own life, in light to Eggers', differently. You may in some larger way get to know and understand a generation, perhaps your own, perhaps someone elses. What you won't get from AHWOSG is boredom. And in a life, the pursuit of entertainment and moreso engagement, seems a worthwhile cause, if only to enlighten and give cause to live. ...mmw...more info
  • Lives up to its title
    This book is brilliant. Its humor is perfectly balanced with its raw life lessons. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates writers who push the envelope without seeming pushy....more info
  • Wonderful, one of the best books I've read all year
    Absolutely wonderful. This is without a doubt one of the best books I've read all year. Eggers' self-referential humor and heartbreaking asides weave a tapestry worthy of praise. I highly recommend this book to almost any audience. Audacious and thought provoking. An affirmation of living life and a meditation on mortality. It is probably the best example of what it is like to be a single twenty-something living in the U.S. in the modern era. Definitely worth the time....more info
  • Neither Heartbreaking Nor Staggering
    Dave Eggers is highly talented and creative, but the book just did not engage me. As I enjoyed the clever copyright notices and chapter descriptions, I was ready for a real tour de force. Alas, I kept my expectations high for more than half the book and then had to put it aside permanently. The story of the narrating character and his little brother had generated no tension in me. I couldn't see where they were headed, so could not really get on their side. This gifted writer needed stronger guidance from his editor....more info
  • Staggering Genius
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Review

    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, was an absolutely brilliant memoir! It never, never once got boring. In my opinion, Dave Eggers is a staggering genius.
    I personally am not a huge fan of memoirs. I tend to think they're dry or monotonous. With Eggers's award-winning novel, this was not the case. Every scene was presented in a different way. Some were very straightforward: "My father had not moved. [...] He was on his knees. He had gone to get the newspaper" (20). On the other hand, Eggers would sometimes describe a scene that took place entirely in his head: "We are foreign exchange people, from a place where there are still orphans. Russia? Romania?" (96).
    Not only was there a nice variety in narration style, but there was a wide assortment of tenses. Eggers does a wonderful job of incorporating flashbacks into the present, then totally flipping around to include the future as well. In the beginning of the novel, he flips between the current situation (his mother dying) and a flashback of his father dying.
    A final strength in the diversity of this memoir was the variations in scene length. Every memory was cut to an appropriate length, so I was never tired of reading a section. Eggers did a really nice job of going from long, drawn out passages to short and simple ones. Overall, this novel was highly engaging. I really enjoyed reading it.
    ...more info
  • Touching.
    Though my title may be typical, just know I don't typically review books on Amazon. This book is a rare exception in that I found it so touching that, despite my reading it over a year ago, I still remember how it affected me. I became so entwined in the storyline that it felt like I was a part of this disjointed and hilarious family (and after all, isn't that what reading is about? Escapism?). Even the prologue is funny, which is atypical. I thoroughly appreciated his humor and sometimes brutal honesty, and I'm sure everyone sees a little bit of themselves in the story.
    According to the reviews, readers are pretty much torn between hating it and loving it. Maybe the ones that like it so much talked it up too much? For that, we are sorry, I'm sure. Some may not appreciate Dave Eggers, but I think he's fabulous. Enough said....more info
  • A Serious Flop
    Eggers is trying too hard to be deep in his memoir, and often throws out self-proclaimed "brilliant" ideas and insights on life without defending why they are brilliant. The writing, quite frankly, is simple and uninteresting, and Eggars fails to connect his ideas, leaving the reader confused as to what they are supposed to get from reading this memoir. I feel as if Eggars has an interesting and relatable premise for his story, but many people have interesting lives and do not become authors. It is having the ability to have the reader be effortlessly pulled into your life that makes and interesting story a brilliant memoir. Eggars does no have that ability. ...more info
  • A.H.B.W.O.S.G. Review
    At age 21, Dave Eggers's mother and father die of unrelated cancers within just 5 weeks of each other. The memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, follows Dave's journey as both a young adult in search of love and freedom, and as a "single mother" to his newly-inherited little brother, Toph.
    The memoir opens with a witty list of "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book", where in a borderline-sarcastic manner, Eggers dismisses the importance and relevance of half the book. Even in the preface, (which was read, despite his suggestions), his clever and ferocious voice bursts through the pages, and straight into the imagination of the reader.
    In A.H.W.O.S.G., Eggers doesn't just sketch general ideas of what he experiences, he vividly paints a picture of specific life events; all his thoughts are splayed out on the pages, as if nothing was cut back. The reader can then enter his head, and hear his inner-thoughts, feel his raw emotions. "We wash our hands and come over... -maybe we forgot to wash our hands- and lean over in the usual way, holding her arm, all while her eyes are following us, at least on eye is following us..." (342). His brutally honest story-telling, yet maybe not-so-honest dialogue, will astonish and entertain any reader.
    The beginning sections of the book describe Dave's mother's slow passing: both in-depth and disturbing, the reader automatically feels uncomfortable yet captured by the twisted, almost overly-descriptive imagery, "The tumor is rotten fruit, graying at the edges. Or the insects' hive, something festering and black and alive, fuzzy on its sides..." (32).
    Eggers weaves different writing styles in and out of the book, "spicing up" the already expansive and intense work. Often out of cynicism, flowcharts, script, and sketches are added, including those of staplers and house space to slide in socks. Dialogue varies from long, deep conversations, (often accusations), to simple greeting exchanges amongst friends.
    Also, Eggers provides breaks from intense, "heartbreaking", often rant-like passages. His choice of events may seem random, but always add further entry into his mind. Painful and depressing events are easier to cope with with Eggers' comedic easiness and sarcasm. But he becomes sullen by injecting feelings like paranoia and caution into what would otherwise be considered "simple" choices.
    When Eggers leaves his brother with a babysitter, (something not normally seeming so terrifying), a reader is overflowed with shared feelings with Eggers. "This is stupid. We don't need this kind of risk...But I have to do this. There is no risk. But there is risk. But the risk is worth it. I'm so, so evil." (126) Without telling the reader he is distressed, the reader knows, especially after frantically following his train of thought.
    As made obvious after completion of this book, Eggers used all events he viewed as important to his life. Even ones that put him in a bad light were used, "You have been determined, then and since, to get this down, to render this time, to take that terrible winter and write with it what you hope will be some heartbreaking thing" (119).
    The voice, writing style, and expanded incidents in this memoir truly makes it a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
    ...more info
  • I really liked it, but it's not for everyone - 4 1/2
    Maybe I'm judging this differently because I'd heard nothing about this book before randomly picking it up at the library (I thought the name "Eggers" was funny). I didn't have high expectations or anything, but I... actually really liked it...

    "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" has some wonderfully special moments to it. First off, Eggers writes in a really casual, easy-to-read manner, and pretty hilariously. Too many memoirs about sad things focus too heavily on the sad things. Eggers goes at the lighter side of things, looking through a slightly more realistic microscope. I get sick of memoirs (or books, for that matter), where realistic/funny parts are far and few between. That's not how life is. Conversations aren't always deep and meaningful (and how can a person writing a memoir even remember conversations so clearly? At least Eggers made it clear that he half-invented some conversations), sometimes they're shallow, pointless, and silly.

    There are other interesting things to AHWOSG. The descriptions of wannabe hipster young adults in the 90s may not appeal to a lot of readers, but it's pretty entertaining to look at this hipster attitude and the San Francisco culture. Again, a lot depends on the reader's personal opinions. If you're not big on guys just telling you about their real life, the good, the bad, the ugly, the boring and the meaningful, you may not want to read a memoir about exactly that - Eggers' life.

    What I like in the end is that it's all very readable. Eggers turns his life almost into satire but still makes everything seem funny and true. I laughed out loud at too many parts in this book (and the prelude is truly genius). There's a lot which younger readers (present) can relate to, whether it's the shying away from responsibility too often, the insecurities, the randomness, the need to belong, or just the dumb things people do and have to go through. The book may be longish, but it goes by quickly and while the ending is sort of random (kind of like the whole book), by the end, I felt like this was my life or at least that I was part of the story.

    Maybe it depends on who is reading AHWOSG. I really liked it, enough to recommend it to friends. I can see my parents thinking it's stupid. I can see my sister laughing hysterically throughout the funny parts and crying during the important ones. Is this a grand work of literature? No. It's a chill, funny memoir that tells a pretty sad and interesting story. It's well written, honest, funny, and enjoyable. Also an easy read.

    So it's a pretty warm-bordering-hot recommendation for younger readers (late teens) or readers okay with the style. I'd suggest older readers of a generation above Eggers and more investigate thoroughly before reading AHWOSG. It's still a great book (memoir), but some may not quite appreciate it. For that, a 4 1/2 star rating....more info
  • Just as expected
    I bought this book as gently used and that is exactly how it came. Very please with its condition. Also, it arrived very quickly....more info
  • Horrid
    This book is so unimaginably bad that the only way its title's words have any relevance is if they are applied to negatives. Fortunately, I borrowed the book from my mother-in-law and did not help enrich this pr-drenched hack. Genius fails both of my factors for memoir excellence by a ton. His life, if truly represented in the memoir, is dull, self-pitying, and self-aggrandizing. His is the archetypal life of `quiet desperation' gone Madison Avenue. In short, his life is neither interesting nor important. Worse, though, is that he is not even a passable prosist. And it's not because he's stretching forms, nor anything near-Joycean, it's that he simply cannot write a compelling sentence, much less a compelling narrative. I am not a believer in Chicken Littleism, that all was better yester, for things go in cycles, but Genius is a book that is horrendous writing in any day. Even 20 years ago it would have been laughed at by any publisher. Before I detail its execrability, let me opine on the reasons it became a bestseller. Genius comes after a couple of decades of MTV, computer games, porno on command, and Political Correctness. I.e.- the self and its instant gratification is the leading mover of advertising, politics, and now art. Eggers may be a genius, but its not in literature, but in marketing. His book is the literary equivalent of the pet rock of the 1970s.

    I defy any reader of Genius to be able to point to a single well-crafted description, or a memorable scene. There are none. Is there even a well-written or memorable paragraph or sentence? 0 for 2. Eggers even celebrates his illiteracy with a near 50 page prologue that is meant as meta-humor, but is really just piffle, for it is not deep, not insightful, nor even original. Its real reason is to try to distract the reader from expecting that Eggers can actually write. This is the same ill that afflicts the work of Jackson Pollock- had he limited his drippings to a series of, say, 8-12 paintings one might legitimately scan the corpus for meaning. But to make a career out of dripping manifests the fact that the man did not really have a coherent, nor deep, vision. Had Eggers limited his wisecracking to 2- 3 pages tops, he may have been falsely accused of having a sense of humor. The bloat that was printed is merely the equivalent of a liar needing to constantly elaborate on his lies just so the prescients among us don't suspect. Of course, we do, and the best of us know a put-on when we read it. Yet, Eggers thinks that if he pretends his prose's lack of craft is a choice, then its failings are good, because for someone to write that badly and get published must mean there is a deeper meaning within. Hold on, reader, let me get that full guffaw out of the way....There. For years, at the Uptown Poetry Group, I would have to explain to young teenagers who thought that their poorly constructed and dull rants of how dull it was to write poorly constructed and dull rants about being bored in a caf®¶ were not genius, nor even insightful. They were most floored when I told them that such rants were not even original. Eggers' masturbation is what it is- masturbation alone. In short, a writer cannot effectively illustrate his character is bored by writing boringly. Some of the dullest characters in literary history were the fops whose lives were penned by Oscar Wilde- `nuff said.

    On to the book's tale: the first 30 or so pages follow his mother's death by cancer. She pukes, she excretes, she spits, and this is supposed to invoke sympathy as Eggers describes how wretched his dying mother is. Then, before she finally kicks off (at which point the reader is delighted) his dad drops dead. Dozens of pages in and this is all that has happened, save for some banal conversation, and finding out he comes from an upper middle class, if not wealthy, family. Eggers has an absolutely tin ear for conversation- both in its content and in its utterance, plus he has no idea how conversation serves narrative- to push it along. I.e.- conversation is usually only superior to narration if it can capture the specifics, emotional intensity, or the essence of the moment or narrative better than a narration could. Also, conversation has to be interesting enough to stand on its own. Real banal banter is not good writing. Good conversation is written to be read and reread with appreciation, yet to fool the reader into believing someone might actually be profound enough to say what they say, even if unwittingly.

    Example A of Eggers' tin ear for conversation: (from pages 22-23)

    `Hi,' I say.

    `Hi,' Toph says.

    `How's it going?'


    `Are you still hungry?'


    `Are you still hungry?'


    `Pause the stupid game.'


    `Can you hear me?'


    `Are you listening?'


    `Do you still want food?'


    Now, I've taken a snip from a longer exchange, but this is typical of the conversation, one designed to show the relationship of Eggers to his baby brother Christopher (Toph). About 40% of the book is literally devoted to conversations of this depth. The fact is that most vapid people are vaguely aware of their state, and reveal the depths of their vapidity by trying to cover it up with poorly advised forays into bad philosophy or polysyllabicism. Eggers is not even clued in enough to recognize this point....Even worse than the tin-eared conversations is the utterly Dick & Jane-like A to B to C narrative. There is nary a moment of true reflection in the whole book. Whether this is because Eggers is simply vapid, or thinks his readers are is not important- the vapidity is. Instead, the whole book, especially the first third is nothing but self-referential pap- be it in advertisements of brand name products (the film version will score a coup in product placements), mention of rock groups, computer games, tv shows and characters, and pop arcana that only a decade on is already as dated as the courtly intrigues of John Dryden's poetry.

    What Eggers and his admirers believe to be in the vein of Joyce and Woolf is nothing better than the PC MFA workshopped drivel it sneers at. In fact, it's probably worse because an occasional moment of sincerity might lend an oasised sentence or paragraph of sustained clarity in the midst of those deserts. Genius is merely PC workshop smart aleck writing that thinks it's brilliant for its un-wry comments on things that have no staying power to begin with....more info
  • One of the great works of American (non)fiction
    How much of this incredible story is true? I believe most of it is. But the book should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Just read it!, as they say. A great and hilarious book not to be missed. Anything by Dave Eggers is good. This one is great....more info
  • Please read this book!
    What an incredible account of the author's pain, hope, love, fears, hatred. It's the menoir of author, Dave Eggers, showing his life as guardian of his young brother after the death of their parents.

    I don't think I have ever read anything so honest and stark in its emotional content. Particularily being a first-hand personal account of the events, the story shows the jumbles mess of emotions coming with such responsibility and stress.

    Please do yourself a favor and read the book!
    ...more info
  • Please Don't Waste Your Time
    I don't say things for the sake of saying them. This is THE WORST book I have EVER read. I have never finished a book and been enfuriated by all the time I wasted on it.

    Yes, it is sad that both his parents died and he had to take care of his brother, but that's all there is to the story. I didn't really even get the feeling he was that upset about it, he didn't say many good things about his parents. His intentions in writing it seem more for his own benefitfor sympathy. It's presented with such hubris in a "look how cool I am" fashion which gets increasingly more irritating.

    I think people tried to give this book credit for reasons of sympathy. You won't learn anything from this book, life is way too short to waste your time with self indulgent books like this. ...more info
  • About the only good thing I can say...
    ...is that the writing is so simplistic and the book so lacking content that it shouldn't take anyone more than 20 minutes to read the whole thing...imagine Jack Kerouac with only about a tenth of the talent taking what could have been a moving story and turning it into an insipid and overly sentimental narrative presumably nonfictional yet totally lacking authenticity...one only hopes that before he writes any more books, he goes out and buys a thesaurus....more info
  • The best parts were about his brother
    The best parts were about his brother. I was strongly tempted to stop reading in order and just flip through the pages, looking for his name, thinking, why would anyone who could write like THAT leave all the rest of these words in here?

    To me, a memoir ought to be so honest that you feel sort of embarassed for the narrator because they've exposed themselves so completely. This WAS really honest, but the narrator's eagerness to find fault with himself deflected the reader's ability to judge him, to find fault or not. He was protected by his own self-criticism, so I never felt close to him.

    Having said that, any author who leaves himself open to being compared (contrasted) to Joyce is really *swearword* brave. In the last few pages, I finally felt like I was being allowed to decide how to feel about him.

    Also: why does he refuse to use the word "whom"? What is that about?

    The title had the same sort of effect on me as the gold circle remarking that it was up for the Pulitzer Prize -- that is, without any suspicion or cynicism, I totally expected to love it and I only liked it very much.

    ...more info
  • Worst Book I've Read in a While
    This book is a pile of pretentious drivel. Eggers is so self-absorbed, he has lost contact with the real world. I haven't read something so bad in a long time. I should have stopped after the first section concerning his parents' deaths, because it just goes way, way downhill from there. I want the hours I spent reading this book back....more info
  • not perfect but perfectly wonderful
    Wow! I was reading the various reviews of this book and the spread of opinions is staggering, if not heartbreaking. The five star reviews are as passionate as the one star reviews. And doesn't that say something about the quality of the writing? That love it or hate it does engage you?

    I was blown away by just how good this book is. It's a hodgepodge of styles and thoughts and emotions. But the writing, ahhh the writing. It sings, it snarls, it spits at you in anger and sometimes it makes you bust out laughing.

    This is not an easy or quick read, and yes, many of the one star reviews are right, it can be a frustratingly egocentric. The one flaw is that Eggers is very young and it shows in his writing, which sometimes lacks maturity or the ability to self-edit. But even at it's worse, it's compelling and practically jumps off the page.

    It's worth the work. ...more info
  • A dizzying book
    There is an image at the beginning of this book, of two brothers driving along Highway 1. They are flying on the edge of the world, going too fast, with only the guardrail between them and the ocean below, and they feel dizzy and free and reckless. It's an image that captures part of the soul of the book. There is another part of the book, that I think more of as the body, where there are two boys living together, one boy older than the other and trying to be the parent. He feeds the younger boy peanut butter and doesn't know anything about laundry, and wishes he could get laid more.

    And the thing that makes this book live up to its audacious title is that the older boy goes about the whole thing, the project or experiment or act of shepherding his brother safely into adulthood, with complete intensity and seriousness. He does it while he is raising himself with equal intensity, building his own life.

    It is outrageous to have written a memoir when you were in your mid-20's, more outrageous still to have been absolutely right to have done so....more info
  • Amazing!
    Dave Eggers has said he wouldn't recommend starting a writing career with a memoir as open and honest as this one but I beg to differ. His open honesty about his life is what made me an everlasting fan. To use your own life to show others they are not alone in this insane world is the greatest gift a writer can give.
    If you haven't read this book yet, you are missing something great in your life....more info
  • A Pulitzer Prize Finalist?
    Reviews of this book seem to occupy mostly the extremes: readers either loved it or hated it. I place it somewhere in between even though I cannot recommend this book for anything other than as an example of the creative use of grammar and punctuation.

    This reads like Generation X literature, harkening back to the early 90s books of Douglas Coupland, books in which angst is spread around like manure in search of a pasture; literature defining a group of people who have never had to fight or struggle for anything more than their own descents into hedonism. And this may be the point that Dave Eggers is trying to make, that of angst in search of a reason, much as Holden Caulfield clumsily stumbled around over half a century ago, but the reader just can't tell for sure.

    For the reader, this book is one insult after another, an exercise in how much abuse the reader will endure in order to serve the narcissism of the author. Beginning on the title page are passages of absolute self indulgence, which do not end there but go on and on through the preface and acknowledgements as well. I put this book down several times, debated with myself whether or not Dave Eggers was using these insulting devices as a means to make a statement and tell his story, or whether he is a con man who has managed to pull off a pretty good literary scam. Back and forth, a unique use of language, true, but in the end there is no story here; there is nothing but page after page of vacuousness as the characters fulfill their missions of delayed maturity. And so I finally put the book down--for good....more info
  • Goot 'til the end
    Eggers work is quite entertaining throughout. He truly captured the random way that the mind works during extreme circumstances. My issue with the book is the ending which essentially makes the whole story worthless. I believe that one of the reasons we read memoir's is to learn a lesson from another person. This book finishes without that lesson. Perhaps that is the authors intent but it does leave you empty. However, I cannot lambaste the entire book as the writing up to that point is excellent and truly captivating....more info
  • Is your library card up to date?
    Here is the best piece of advice in all 920 reviews: get this book from the libary and skip around. You can't go wrong. ...more info
  • I tried to get my money back
    I suggested this book to my book club without having read it first. Big mistake! All of us hated this book so much, that we wrote a letter to the publisher asking for our money back. Perhaps we don't understand Gen-Xers, but it seemed to all of us to be a book about NOTHING. At least Seinfeld made us laugh!

    We now have a rule that no book is to be recommended to the club without having first read it yourself!...more info
  • Forget it.
    I gave up, I admit it. At page 146 I couldn't take any more meaningless banter.

    Read J.G. Ballard's "Empire of the Sun" instead, much, much better....more info
  • The Work of A Staggering Genius
    "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is Dave Eggers' moving memoir chronicling his journey after the death of both of his parents, and his struggles of trying to find himself while caring for his adolescent brother, Toph. Eggers tells his story with extraordinary voice and is able to reveal his true thought processes through writing that more often sounds like the mumblings of his inner-conscience rather than a finely articulated memoir. But "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is nothing but a finely articulated memoir. Eggers passionately conveys his conflicts between old and young, adult and child, responsibility and immaturity, brother and parent and son - struggling to find a happy medium as a twenty-some year old full-time guardian of his brother. Eggers speaks to the reader as if we are right there with him, allowing us to witness the good, the bad, and the ugly. He manages to truly create a dynamic image of himself that we can't help but feel is genuine; however, not always diplomatic.
    Eggers cleverly gives levity to his otherwise somber situation. Through both this wittiness and his straight-forward revelations that he would "be bored without Toph", we are able to grasp that, despite the overwhelming responsibility of raising an 8 year old, going to parent/teacher conferences, making lunches and dinners, and trying to be the parent that everyone expects him to be while keeping up his own parents' legacies, Eggers can find the good among the bad and the ugly. Inspiringly, Eggers still maintains his "fun-loving big brother" status, but always feels the pressure that he's not the role model he should be. Eggers creatively reveals his secret paranoia that he will be found out for not taking care of Toph like a parent should and reveals his guilt that he can't do so. In the same creative, swift, sub-conscience "blabbering", we also learn that Eggers is constantly questioning people's acceptance of him and Toph "as a couple", and always imagining the worst possible outcomes for him and Toph: murder, kidnapping, drowning. Uncertainty that probably stems from having the worse-case scenarios happen to his mother and father years earlier and the lack of control that Eggers had to save either of his parents is strongly contrasted in the new control he is given in determining Toph's childhood and future. Through every up and down, Eggers reveals his life in terms some may find too harsh and candid, but in terms that never deny the ugly truth.
    Heartbreakingly, Eggers loses his parents right before our eyes all throughout the book. Starting with their actual death, then with the moving from Chicago and selling his parents' home, the loss of the only remaining artifacts he has of his parents': his father's wallet and a teddy bear that evokes feelings of his mother, and the lack of closure he gets after his parents' deaths because there was no funeral and no ashes to scatter. Eggers doesn't seek closure until the very end, when he revisits his hometown, finds his mother's ashes and scatters them; finally setting himself free from his dead parent's grasp.

    Eggers cleverly gives levity to his otherwise somber situation. Through both this wittiness and his straight-forward revelations that he would "be bored without Toph", we are able to grasp that, despite the overwhelming responsibility of raising an 8 year old, going to parent/teacher conferences, making lunches and dinners, and trying to be the parent that everyone expects him to be while keeping up his own parents' legacies, Eggers can find the good among the bad and the ugly. Inspiringly, Eggers still maintains his "fun-loving big brother" status, but always feels the pressure that he's not the role model he should be. Eggers creatively reveals his secret paranoia that he will be found out for not taking care of Toph like a parent should and reveals his guilt that he can't do so. In the same creative, swift, sub-conscience "blabbering", we also learn that Eggers is constantly questioning people's acceptance of him and Toph "as a couple", and always imagining the worst possible outcomes for him and Toph: murder, kidnapping, drowning. Uncertainty that probably stems from having the worse-case scenarios happen to his mother and father years earlier and the lack of control that Eggers had to save either of his parents is strongly contrasted in the new control he is given in determining Toph's childhood and future. Through every up and down, Eggers reveals his life in terms some may find too harsh and candid, but in terms that never deny the ugly truth.
    Heartbreakingly, Eggers loses his parents right before our eyes all throughout the book. Starting with their actual death, then with the moving from Chicago and selling his parents' home, the loss of the only remaining artifacts he has of his parents': his father's wallet and a teddy bear that evokes feelings of his mother, and the lack of closure he gets after his parents' deaths because there was no funeral and no ashes to scatter. Eggers doesn't seek closure until the very end, when he revisits his hometown, finds his mother's ashes and scatters them; finally setting himself free from his dead parent's grasp.
    ...more info
  • Wuddup Einstein?
    Dave Eggers knows more than anyone that raising a child alone isn't easy, and you can only begin to understand when reading this book. Dave loses both parents and ends up taking care of his younger brother Toph. The book covers his experiences dealing with the loss he's suffered and the gain.
    Dave writes about a terrifying subject. A line needs to be drawn between `sad' and `depressing'. The book is sad and the reader knows it. It does not however make you depressed. Dave uses a comedic style that doesn't lighten up any of the events but puts the reader at ease. Humor runs rampant in the book. It comes in to varieties: awkward and dark. Again, he lost both parents, but he can still make you laugh about. That's twisted and great. The events that he runs into trying to raise Toph sometimes make you laugh because you've no idea what else to do.
    That intense comedy is created by and creates two things. Dave appears to have no filter. He writes what he says and thinks without censorship. If you're sensitive to language or immaturity (then you're immature yourself), this book may be for someone else. More important than his lack of filter, is his honesty. Dave doesn't hesitate to present himself as pompous at times and scared at others. His sense of humor and honesty are abundant in his acknowledgments/preface. It goes on for quite awhile and even includes the way you should read the book, and a guide to the symbols. Some might think that that'd take away from the reading experience, but it doesn't. It enhances it. How rare is it to understand the author's motivation so fully?
    Dave occasionally writes in a scattered kind of way. Let's rid ourselves of the negative implication of the word "scattered". Dave often interrupts his own story with a quick section that seemingly could've waited until after he was done with what we were reading. He writes so that these interjections add to the existing story while still being one themselves. He also uses a style of writing where he is just reciting a stream of consciousness. He writes what he was thinking then and is thinking as he writes.
    He's not afraid of lists. He gives examples of writing. He will go on for an extended period just rattling off things. This might be your thing, but I believe he does it well. Dave Eggers is not afraid of lists, honesty, or out of the box writing style. Dave, the guy who raised his brother, was afraid and admits it. Dave, the writer, isn't afraid of writing how he wants.
    ...more info
  • Perhaps staggering, but only glimpses of brilliance.
    This book is the fictionalized account of the author's life. He suffers rare tragedy when he loses both his parents, within a short period of time, to unrelated terminal cancer. He ends up taking primary day-to-day responsibility for his much younger brother for most of the book, while his other siblings focus on their own lives. Not that the author does not focus on his own life. In fact, he is quite narcissistic.

    For much of the novel, I personally did not find his narcissistic navel-gazing and wallowing in tragedy to be a turnoff. The writing was good, the anecdotes usually interesting or enjoyable, and there was plenty of humor. The author's use of various literary devices were sometimes original, often darkly humorous, and quite entertaining for most of the book. However, in the last third of the book, particularly the last few pages, the author turns almost monstrous.

    There is no plot, though the book being autobiographical does not preclude plot, so the story itself fizzles at the end. In addition, the author's darkly witty edge is replaced by raw vitriol. Despite being alternately entertained by and sympathetic to the author for most of the book (though his moral character is suspect throughout), upon finishing the final chapter, I felt soiled. By the end, the author seems to be more damaged, less able to cope with his loss, and far angrier at the world, than he was at the beginning of the book.

    As other reviewers have said, perhaps it all was meant as literary joke on the reader. Whatever the case, Dave Eggers has literary talent, so he warrants a few stars. The ending, however, was repellant and prevents me from recommending it or giving it more than 3 stars.

    There are glimpses of brilliance (if not genius), but the author's still unresolved rage at the end of the book was, to me, staggering. Thus, the book is heartbreaking primarily because the author's talents have been misused in this effort. ...more info
  • Easily the worst book I've read all year
    This is hands down the worst book I've read all year, and I read at least five a month. Thank goodness someone lent it to me and I didn't have to spend money for it. I kept feeling as if the author were trying to manipulate my emotions and not doing such a good job. Reading your immature teenager's diary would probably generate the same feelings....more info
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
    The Reasons Why A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was the #1 National Bestseller

    Written By: Catherine Schultheis

    Dave Eggers, a highly motivated and endearing young man who is held captive to the role of a single father at the precious age of 21, wrote this memoir with an unbelievable amount of style and grace. Each page is a work of art, entailing a consistent flow of dialog, description, and character development. Although at some points confusing, never once was I overcome with boredom while reading this memoir.
    After losing both his father and mother to cancer within five weeks of each other, Dave is introduced to the world of parenting by having been left the guardian of his younger brother, Toph. At this point, it would seem logical for Dave to break down, or become overwhelmed with anxiety, but the memoir shows no such doing. Instead these pages are filled with very detailed sentences on how Dave goes about parenting his younger brother: "He is my twenty-four hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile. He is a lucky, lucky boy! And no one can stop me. (49)" Dave wants the best for his brother; which is why he makes such an effort to make things right for Toph, in a world gone so wrong.
    Not only does Dave use forceful writing to prove his love for Toph; but also to show the balance between his family life and his determination to succeed through Might Magazine. Abrupt, and concise sentences seemed to be used a lot in this part of the memoir to prove his point that young adults should do what they want to do. "We want everyone to follow their dreams, their hearts (aren't they bursting, like ours?) Hey Sally, why work at that silly claims adjusting job-didn't you used to sing? Sing, Sally, sing! (173)" Through the publication of Might, Egger's goal is to show the world that young adults can make a difference doing what they do best. Each sentence that describes Might's goals and ideals hold a vast amount of spirit in a "not-so-complicated" style of writing.
    Dave is young and determined but at the same time old and wise. He has been the victim of life's harsh reality and confidently rises to the challenge. Egger's life is truly one of a kind, which is why A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a real and wonderful memoir- unforgettable, to say the least.

    ...more info
  • pointless rant
    like many other reviewers who found this book distasteful, i got so sick and tired of eggers' wandering, random pomposity that i put the book down two chapters short of the end. i have never gotten so close to the end of a book without feeling any desire to finish it. i didn't even bother reading the last page, because by the time i finally surrendered, my distaste for the often completely unnecessarily verbose writing far outweighed my mild curiosity to know how the story ends. since there didn't seem to be any point to eggers' tale, i can't imagine that i missed much anyway. i have no doubt that eggers has potential to be a clever writer if he can gain a little humility. however, i would skip over this early work. as a full time non-traditional student supporting myself, i find very little time to read recreationally, and i very much wish that i had not waited so long to put this book down for good....more info
  • An Emotional, Realistic Account of Terminal Illness
    A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS is an excellent account of a family's reactions and emotions to their mother's terminal illness. It is very somber and realistic, expressing every emotion that is felt as a loved one dies with cancer. The author shares his frustration and anger with the terrible disease that has changed his once vibrant, active mother into a physically dependent, bedridden patient. The affect it has on every member of the family is described in honest detail, even the author's reaction to the alienation and morbid curiosity of neighbors and friends. A truly remarkable and blatantly honest account of dealing with terminal illness, an exceptional book!...more info
  • Not genius, but likeable enough
    This book was quite a big deal - good reviews, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and probably sold very well. Eggers is now a literary celebrity. It is too bad that he is not really that great a writer. This tells the story of the collapse and reconstruction of his family following the deaths of both his parents. The author, who appears to be around 25, leaves Lake Forest, Illinois, along with his sister and much younger brother, and heads to the Bay Area. There, he starts a hip young magazine along with a group of other people. A lot of time is devoted to the masculine, unspokenly loving camraderie between himself and his younger brother, Toph. But primarily this book is about the author, and his breathless, unexamined pursuit of various things - occasional romance, succeeding in publishing, and caring for his little brother.

    Eggers gets into dialogues with himself and questions his motives. Secondary characters pop up, fade away, and come back, and they are often associated with some sort of tragedy. There is the problem of what to do with his mother's ashes, a job that the rest of the family seems to be shirking. There is the magazine, which is not doing very well. Failure and pain are never far away, but the narrator never complains. He leads us thru these events, describing but rarely questioning or planning. He hooks up with a girl here and there, but what is he really looking for? The writing seems to be pretty seriously influenced by Kerouac. It is conversational and packed with run-on sentences. He does not have Kerouac's flashes of mystical insight, but he occasionally throws out a great phrase. Large sections could have been cut out or shortened.

    I will admit that at first I did not like this book, but over time, altho this writer's talent was not winning me over, his sincerity began to. It is hard not to like someone who is clearly this earnest and well-intentioned, and wants to share his enthusiasm and his heartaches with the reader. Eggers tries to throw us off with some irony here and there, but he takes himself very seriously and wants desperately to be a leading voice of his generation. Well, he succeeded. This was not a great book, but it was likeable in its own way, and it is a good look at what it means to be 20-something, left-wing, and wanting to make a mark in the world, and dealing with some of life's heartaches as well.

    ...more info
  • What's all the fuss about? The Emperor has no clothes!
    With all the praise this book received, I can't understand why this book didn't win the Pulitzer prize. Oh, wait! I know. There wasn't enough profanity. Maybe if he had added a glossary of profanity to go along with his oh-so-clever drawing of a stapler, that would have tipped the scales in his favor. Sorry folks, where you see "honesty" I see literary laziness. "Lets see, I can't think of a good way to describe how this feels, so @^$#*&#&!!!" It read like a kid's journal. I made it through chapter 5, then realized I could log into MySpace and read blogs by children just as well written as this was. I get it. He is angry because life is confusing and unfair. Life presents us with mutiple opportunites to feel inadequate and afraid. He enjoys shocking people with outrageous prose and images. Got it. But if this is the kind of literature that is worthy of a Pulitzer, than the world is a sadder and scarier place than I thought. In the future, I will avoid all titles written by this author as though they were the very plague!...more info
  • 22 year-olds should never be allowed to publish
    I finally read AHWOSG after hearing raves about it for many years. I was very disappointed. The first 75 pages or so about the parents' deaths was very engaging and gave me false hopes. The remainder of the book was tedious, pretentious and incredibly boring. The author seems to write as if he was a 22 year-old, the age of the character. I guess Eggers doesn't know that an actual writer can write in the guise of a younger character without losing his skills such as grammar, punctuation, no run-on sentences. 99% of 22 year-olds do not have enough life experience to be interesting for 400 pages. An editor would have been helpful. At least 100 pages should be deleted especially the long section on the MTV interview -- I had to skip over most of it because it was so horrible. Unfortunately, my opinion is very late for most readers. Maybe if Eggers ever decides to reprint this memoir, he could do so as a 200 (or less) page novella. What a shame to have wasted $10,000 on a useless 'zine rather than on something like .....oh I don't know.....child care!...more info
  • I only made it to Chapter 4
    What a disappointment! I bought this book after hearing lots of great stuff about it (too bad I didn't look at the reviews on Amazon!), and I started reading it - and. Oh. My. God. I couldn't take it. Yeah, it was sad and tragic, and so dang depressing - but it was those long-winded descriptions that did me in. Page after page of solid blocks of text and long conversations consisting of 3 or 4 words where I kept losing track of who was saying what. Geez. I can't believe I spent money on this book. I wish I'd borrowed it from the library instead. Now I'm stuck with it and out of [...] bucks. ...more info
  • Generation Y speaks?
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is, as its title immediately suggests to the reader, a highly self-conscious product of a post-modern age in which pastiche, posturing and the pursuit of a wryly ironic and self-deprecating celebrity blend to create a `memoir' that seeks to combine a meditation on the meaning of life with a meditation on mortality. The comic sections of the `memoir', which include the lengthy and highly self-conscious introduction, while unusual for the genre the book purports to belong to, are typical of Eggers' style.

    Eggers typically exploits many of the narrative conventions of post-structuralist literature, compressing time for dramatic effect, engaging in fantastic (if not pure fantasy) scenes, having his characters acknowledge their own existence within the text, thereby disrupting the usual narrative convention and enhancing the text's own sense of its artificiality. As author, Eggers effectively turns each character, or significant event in the narrative, into a tool for exploring his own sense of loss and his thoughts and feelings. In this respect, the characters he introduced into the text, while based on real individuals, become fictional vehicles through which Eggers may articulate his moments of self-doubt, self-criticism and conduct an internal dialogue which, in the ironic style of the text, is conducted in the most public forum possible.

    The sense of self-consciousness, which is developed to the point of exhibitionism, that dominates the text both captures and satirises the emphasis laid upon instant celebrity, as opposed to fame, in late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century Western culture. It also means that the persona presented to the reader is not necessarily an authentic one, just as the events presented to the reader, while being based in reality, are not necessarily authentic in their mode of presentation in the text. This artificiality is a device deliberately used to distance the reader from the author while appearing to create an illusory sense of intimacy between author and reader. The blending of fact and fiction is, as with other works of this nature, used to distance the reader from the author as an individual and to engage with him as a literary construct that approximates a set of `truths' about the human condition. In this sense, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius may be seen as what the New York Times dubbed as `faction'--the blending of fact and fiction--, a typical feature of post-structuralist narratives.

    The most fundamental aspect of Eggers' narrative, apart from being the only true subject of his own story, is that the humour and comedy so often invoked by Eggers is itself a brittle thing; it is almost his only defence against the tragedy of his parents' untimely deaths from cancer, the enormous change this created in his life and those of his siblings (although any real sense of this is minimised to the extent that they appear only as flat, supporting characters in what is, fundamentally, Eggers' drama) and, above all else, from the criticism and judgements of others. This brittleness makes Eggers' self-consciousness a technique that begins to pall as the narrative extends itself into an examination, if not a justification, of the minutiae of the protagonist's pursuit of a creatively provocative level of celebrity; ultimately, there is little that Eggers does not write about that is not about himself. While, perhaps, capturing a sense of the egocentricity with which the modern world now operates, it is not an entirely endearing egocentricity and the brittleness of the humour, the febrile nature of the wit is something that invokes a more insipid version of the brittle wit of Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest, where identity and the rights of a particular identity ultimately is all that matters.

    Put more bluntly, and to echo one critic's comments, the book may be characterised as being `self-indulgent, whiney and age-appropriate' and that `Dave as Peter Pan is not particularly appealing with his creative facial hair (his description), sexual indiscrimination and age-appropriate language'. Eggers creates a composite character of himself as a contemporary Peter Pan, a Generation X tragic Everyman, that conceals any sense of himself and makes his work a `memoir' of what might have been rather than of what was. This certainly fits more closely with the recurrent narrative use of stream-of-consciousness which becomes something of a relentless tide that sweeps the reader away from an event based narrative and into one that is composed purely of the swirling thoughts of Eggers' fictionalised self, or the self-criticisms voiced through his equally fictionalised real characters. Even the existential angst to which the book pretends is often reduced in its meaning as it becomes a platform on which Eggers is able to compete for our attention against the television, the Internet and the latest celebrity scandal. In the sense that there is very little that may be regarded as being sacred, that everything--and everyone--is simply grist to the mill in the pursuit of personal aggrandisement, this is very much a product of its time.

    In a sense this is one of the few books that may, perhaps, lay claim to being truly `post'-post-structuralist because it simply treats every device, every authorial and narrative structure and approach, as possessing value only when it brings attention to the author himself. This extends to the self-mocking approaches he adopts toward himself although, in reality, it is toward his role, as author and the status such a role may be understood to confer upon him. As a narrative strategy, it is one that is supposed to remove the traditional status of author as `expert' in relation to his work and strike a more a more `convincing' democratic note that suggests the author is, in fact, just like his readers. This democratic ideal, which is based in the notion of a spurious egalitarianism where celebrity is a celebration of the ordinary, the familiar, even the banal, is captured in the equally self-conscious eschewing of literariness in the text while manipulating its various features to the text's advantage.

    One such example is the partially developed motif of the `lattice' that is extensively referred to in Chapter VI. While lacking the substance of considered thought or reflection, which is itself another narrative technique, it presents a plausible narrative response to the personal, social and moral complexities of the world that has the illusion of complexity while being sufficiently simplistic to fit the demand for immediate consumption. In much the same way, the haphazard narrative structure of the text, with its various comic non-sequiturs, self-conscious interruptions and interpolations, presents a structure that may be claimed to mimic the lack of structure of existence. In other words, this is a narrative that presents itself, on an existential level, as art imitating life or, in other words, art holding up a mirror to life. The lack of resolution means, of course, that it is up to the reader to ascertain, or even decide, if there is any central revelation in the text, or whether it is merely the literary version of MTV's Real World, with the difference being that Eggers got on the show this time and that he is the producer as well. If this latter assumption is true, the entire `memoir' is simply an extended retelling and reformulation of everything that can be read quickly and with relative ease in Chapter VI alone.

    The notion Eggers develops in various forms throughout the book of him and Toph being `God's Tragic Envoys' (cf. p.73) presents the reader with a difficult choice: if this is indeed true, what value do others in similar situations have in relation to this claim? If the reader chooses to regard the claim as being nothing more than hyperbole, to what extent does this mean that death has little meaning beyond its effect on the living and the way in which the living may justify all sorts of behaviour under the guise of grief? Essentially, the reader must decide to what extent this notion of being `God's Tragic Envoys' is simply another self-serving fiction created by Eggers to maintain the reader's focus not so much on the death of his parents and its affect on his family as on himself, his `existential howling' and to remind the reader that there can only be one actor in this drama and that it will be, unequivocally, Eggers and his self-fictionalised selves.

    There is an uncomfortable sense in which this work is simply another example of Eggers `greedily cartwheeling toward everything we are owed' in the guise of being `God's Tragic Envoys'. This underlying aspect of the work is another element the reader must confront and make a decision upon. If this is the case then absolutely everything serves only one calculated purpose, even Toph, whom he purports to love dearly, that unswervingly moves towards to the goal of Eggers' personal celebrity. Or, it may be argued, that Eggers is indeed the spokesman for his time, for his Generation Y.
    ...more info
  • Exactly as the title states
    This is a beautiful book. Eggers delves bravely into his own heartache, depicting honestly his own life and emotions what many of us refuse to admit even to ourselves. The ending, I will admit was not to my liking but the book overall was beautiful and truly captivating of the force of grieving, and moreover, loving....more info
  • Needed More Editing
    I bought this because I thought I would really like it. In the end, I felt sort of "meh" about it-- which is sad, considering how powerful the subject matter should be.

    First, yes, the author is tremendously long-winded. Just the preface and "rules" of the book clued me in... I couldn't believe an editor actually let that happen. I didn't find it funny. I found it just very self-absorbed and *trying* to be funny. I skimmed.

    But opposite of many other reviewers, the book actually grew on me about halfway through, and I'm not sure how to explain that. Maybe it's because I saw his more responsible side. There were several things initially that bothered me about his parenting, from the way he doesn't help his brother get ready in the mornings to the gross state of the house (and don't get me started on the use of the word "retard" and the other nasty little references to developmentally disabled people in the book).

    It left me screaming inside, "Was there no other person in the family who could have helped them NOT live like that?" But there are also plenty of endearing moments where it's clear he loves his brother and wants to do right by him, just with different values from mine.

    The MTV "interview" was ridiculous, and could have been cut in its entirety. It was not clever and was a poor gimmick to do a massive info-dump.

    There are spots of brilliance in this book-- lines I wish I'd written, paragraphs that gave me chills-- but there are way too many stream-of-conscious ramblings that needed a much fatter red pen from an editor, in my opinion.
    ...more info
  • Garbage
    2001 was a bad year for reality, and apparently, for fiction as well. That's the only way I can explain how this pretentious, annoying and over hyped book was finalist for a Pulitzer. Dave Eggers lost his parents within weeks of each other to cancer, and became a kind of surrogate parent to his younger brother, Topher. That's an extraordinary circumstance, that could have made for a moving memoir. But Eggers, who has a huge ego and little talent, gives us an incredibly dull and tedious account of his life with Topher. I worked hard to finish this book and in the end, I just gave up. Life's too short to waste it with this tripe....more info


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