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"Exhilarating….Profoundly moving, occasionally angry, and often hilarious….A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is, finally, a finite book of jest, which is why it succeeds so brilliantly" (The New York Times Book Review).


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.

Topics: Debut, Family, Death, Brothers, Siblings, Stream of Consciousness, Postmodern, Coming of Age, Orphans, San Francisco Bay Area, and Heartfelt

Published: Simon & Schuster on
ISBN: 9781476737546
List price: $11.99
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A.H.W.O.S.G. is a well written memoir, it just was not for me. At its core there is a protagonist that is shaped by tragedy, decides to live his life trying to escape the consequences and responsibilities that life brings his way. As the book unfolded, I realized that I neither admired the main character nor connected with his mistakes and overall cared little about him one way or another. While individual paragraphs were witty and amusing, I soon found myself skimming chapters wondering when I could start another book.more
I tried to like this book, really and truly I did. I thought it would be clever and unusual and brilliantly worded like a David Foster Wallace book can be. After all, I'd unfortunately paid good money for it. And it's not easy to be so critical about an autobiographical book in which the author's parents die and leave him raising his much younger brother - you really want to root for this book and the author behind it.But it's awful. It doesn't matter whether Eggers really believes he's clever or is merely posturing as such for a lark. I'm sorry to be harsh, but if Mr. Eggers is anything in person like he is on the page, people must flee the room when they see him moving their way at a cocktail party. I can't explain why I felt compelled to finish this dull and tedious book, other than I felt it simply *had* to get better at some point. It doesn't.Do yourself a HUGE favor: pass this one by. I wish Mr. Eggers and his family all the best, but a decent turn of phrase once in a while does not an author make. Don't believe anyone who would have you think that critics of this book simply don't 'get' it. In this case, there is no substance whatsoever and precious little in the smoke-and-mirrors department, either.If you're looking for clever and/or funny, you'd be better off with Richard Russo's fabulous "Straight Man", Tom Perrotta's "Little Children", Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love", John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy Of Dunces" or a thousand other books I could rattle off. Really, ANY book is better than AHWOSG. It's that bad. Sorry. :)more
I really tried to finish this since I feel it's unfair to say it was horrible without reading the whole thing, but I just couldn't. Life is just too short. I was dreading it every time I picked it back up and finally read about 3/4 of it until I couldn't take it anymore. I was sure it was going to get better. It had to. It didn't.

I really felt like this book was not only pointless, it was a con. There was no story and no talent for telling one. It was like be trapped at a party with someone who won't stop telling insanely boring stories about themselves, and can't even tell them well.

There seems to be this idea (in books, movies, music, art) that you can just produce crap and it's OK, and witty, and clever, and somehow becomes good as long as you let everyone know you think it's crap too. I don't understand that line of thinking.

bbmore
Man, I found this tiresome. I love what Dave Eggers is doing for literature right now, let me state that at the beginning. But this book ... eh. I felt like I was listening to some half-drunk, privileged and over-educated guy from college prattle on about his life and his dreams. Y'know, I didn't even enjoy that when I was in college.more
I can't believe it took me so long to get to this one. I really liked it, even if the too-precious opening really put me off at first.more
Laugh out loud funny in parts and, despite the subject matter, surprisingly uplifting.more
This book has flaws. A randomness that fails to support a narrative for one. But all of it is done with a self-awareness and vividness that makes this book a character piece, and a brilliant one at that. The stream of judgmental or paranoid ramblings are generally balanced by the self-doubt and guilt displayed by Eggers over his actions.Eggers is a refreshing voice, a hipster that admits he really wants all those things he says he too cool to want.more
Heartwarming account of how the writer, following the death of both parents, at the age of 22 years becomes the carer of his 8 year old brother. The evident brotherly love they share, and the protective care the writer shows for his sibling is most touching. The title in not an exaggeration.more
A great book. The title says it all. Really.more
Walking past a charity stall this book caught my eye.I realised the title was ironic when I saw the author, unknown to me, went by the name of Dave, more amusing for the fact that three of the testimonials on the dust cover are provided by literary heavyweights whose first name is given as the full David. Intrigued, I invested the paltry purchase price demanded for this pristine hardback of £0.50 (35c).I was quite taken aback by the number of reviews for this mystery book and the polarised nature of them, nothing less than love or hate not only for the work but also for the author.Worse, I have an inbuilt aversion to the very mention of Gen X/Gen Y or PoMo; I mean seriously, no shades of grey there then, and those terms are liberally spread in reviews, especially the more negative ones.So, Eggers must be some kind of pretentious, privileged, spoiled brat yet also managing to succeed against enormous odds of losing both parents to cancer whilst barely out of his teens, and assuming the terrifying and weighty responsibility of caring for and nurturing a much younger sibling. Something doesn't stack up. I approached the book with heightened interest and an open mind for better or worse.After enduring an uncomfortable, and apparently self indulgent and lengthy introduction, I sensed a challenge to the reader, almost a confrontation to pre judge and be proved wrong. It's a strange thing, acknowleded by the author as such, to put out of context outtakes and editorial cullings at the beginning of the book, lest they be forgotten or become irrelevant by the end. Still, an insight into the writer's 'Gen X PoMo' quirkiness was gained, though little of the reality of the more contemporary prose to be revealed once the memoir got underway, and the motive remains unclear other than as an ironic sop to expectations of those familiar with his other published work (which I am not).So, is the story heartbreaking? Of course, how could it not be? Following the trauma of the death of his parents, heartbreaks abound in the form of the near fatal accident and uncertain recovery of a close friend, and the on off suicidal tendencies of another friend with whom Eggers has to wrestle with how much tough love, how much bullshit, how much anger, how much bluff calling, is enough.Yet Eggers never seeks sympathy nor sets out to break the reader's heart.Eggers certainly gives of himself, and not moreso than to his little brother Christopher, known as Toph, whom he assumes full time care of following the early death of their mother. Eggers deep love, admiration and sense of loss for his mother is an ever present value and Toph is the beneficiary of his love to burn. The death of his father coming months before that of his mother is less of a defining event and the relationship between father and son is more distant, the weaknessess and failings of his father more deeply felt in comparison with the certitude of his mother.It is this genetic stoicism which enables Eggers to not only succeed in bringing Toph up, though at times chaotically, he was in his early 20s after all, but also to doggedly persist with being the guiding light of a small, determined bunch of like minds in publishing a satrical periodical.To appreciate the sheer scale of Eggers' achievements through much adversity and to appreciate the minutae of life in his circumstances, the daily challenges of providing, paying bills and survival, through responsibility assumed not sought, it is, of course, essential to read the book.Eggers frequently writes from his consciousness and this, I think is where some readers mistake his thoughts for reality. He often talks to himself through brotherly and paternal rants with Toph or imaginary conversations, and it is in these where any hints of bitterness or self pity arise, after all who couldn't feel similarly, and yet there is no suggestion whatsoever that these inner thoughts are ever revealed in his actions or his dealings with other people, even those who may deserve to hear some self serving diatribe. Indeed the opposite is true, most obviously at Toph's schools where Eggers abjectly fails to seek any advantage in his circumstances to gain preferential treatment and certainly empathy is the last thing on the minds of various landlords in his quests for a decent place to live with his brother.Eggers may yearn to go out and paint the town red but his fraternal instincts become paternal and he is suprisingly conservative in his values.Perhaps the most uncomfortable revelations are in his sentiments towards old people, especially those who display signs of enjoying life, though I believe he is conciously portraying a phobia due to trauma and suppressed anger of realisation that his own parents could never achieve that elderly state as this trait flies in the face of his devotion to his sadly decaying mother.Later in the book there is a passage concerning the fate of the ashes of his mother for which crticism and hasty judgement has been levelled in some reviews. In fact the reasons for why a burial was not arranged following her passing is fully explained and understandable, Eggers also feels a futility in a showy, quasi religious event, for which he can hardly be blamed, especially given the paltry turn out for his father's funeral, though he spends little time blaming God for his or their plight.In time it is Eggers alone, rather than the older siblings one might expect to take charge, who returns over the thousands of miles to the erstwhile family home to track down the ashes and then finds himself unexpectedly attached to the cremains of his mother until his mind clears to enable a solution.The closing section of the book, which may well be of near staggering genius, reveals that, having seemingly moved on, and in a moment of perfect peace shared with Toph, the scars which run deep reopen, the concerns of appearing different, the memories of good times and the worst of times, subliminally or conciously are omnipresent and forever shape the here and now.Eggers' story is as worthy of being told as any other memoir I can think of. I am left with an impression that if he has any genius it is for his self awareness and genuine humility whilst appearing to some as self serving and arrogant.I suspect Eggers is as satisfied and comfortable with that paradox, as am I that I instinctively decided to pick up and then read this very fine and highly commendable book.more
I suspect that if you were to take every author who’s had the chance to write more than one book in their lifetime that there’s a kind of connection or chart or graph that could illustrate an author’s first novel with his literary path (read: motive). Thinking over the years of books that an author may have penned in his or her twenties (or thirties, if you wait like DeLillo) I’m tempted to conclude that either you write something entirely given to memory, recreating events, attempting to create some kind of catharsis and letting the reader gorge upon its importance...OR. You write something small, slim, something that feels introductory but sparse in details. Sentence constructions are concise and to the point. Something that stands on its own. Think about it. Jonathan Ames and Bret Easton Ellis both contributed to the latter with I Pass Like Night and Less Than Zero (also in this category: Catcher in the Rye, Gun, With Occasional Music, etc...). From the latter you get stuff memory-laden stuff like Auster’s Invention of Solitude or the book Dave Eggers wrote in his mid-twenties.Alright, so the model isn’t entirely representative of the full spectrum of novelists. But after reading Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius I find myself wanting to investigate the trend that I’ve just highlighted. Seething from under this book’s cover is much rage and confusion in its 400+ pages. There’s also a fair amount of venting, macabre pontificating, and much ‘what is it all for’ question-asking on the readers part.And what does it all come to? What does it speak of? What’s the point? Is a first-novel supposed to speak volumes of your character and ambition as a writer? I don’t mean to ask because I find Eggers book lacking or without merit. I’m now keenly interested in the answer. Is any kind of literary introduction just self-reflective writing borne from a need to make others absolutely KNOW what you’ve been through?Eggers (creator of the popular, and decidedly indie, zine, McSweeneys) book is a fictionalized memoir from just before the point he, his sister, Beth, and two brothers, Bill (mostly absent young republican) and Toph (heart of the story) lose both their mother and father (from stomach, and brain and lung cancer, respectively). Having decided on a clean start from their suburban Lake Forest home just outside of Chicago the clan decides to move to California, where Beth is currently attending law school at Berkeley and Dave seemingly single-handedly raises his 8 year old brother Toph while trying to both shield his brother from their recent tragedy and figure out the best way to assimilate him into a life that doesn’t seem any less normal than the neighbor next door.And here’s where it gets tricky. Throughout the book Eggers breaks his fourth wall down to address the reader directly. Sometimes it concerns how actual events played out or how a person’s sidestory might confuse the reader into thinking he/she had a bigger role in Dave’s life despite the very opposite being true. At several points it is made aware that Dave is carrying around a notebook and tape recorder with the intention of jotting his own feelings to be used in some grander narrative. No doubt the story’s center pulls at even the most cantankerous person’s heart strings. I mean, how could it not. Certainly I was thinking of my own parents in those early passages. I sometimes like to think that in dire circumstances people are able to come together to give each other a break. Through these issues: the finding of and disposing of the ashes, the funeral recreation, the final bedside moments. All of the memories and experiences that lead Dave to question why people aren’t more forgiving of his situation... Once you find out that it was someone other than Dave who was originally given the responsibility of raising Toph you begin to wonder why it was that him, the second youngest child (who ultimately dropped out of college to accommodate his younger brother), and not the oldest (Bill, who already had a job at a think-tank operation) who raised Toph. Why did the mature Eggers clan decide not to have a proper burial for their parents? Where are the aunts and uncles to help alleviate some of the stress of having to care for your 8-year-old brother?Instead of elaborate details surrounding the Eggers extended familial situation you get Dave plodding on at his job founding the doomed-to-fail Might magazine and wondering what it would be like to properly enjoy his youthful twenties instead of frantically positing on why the (possibly) Scottish babysitter would want to murder his brother.Is this material fair game? It doesn’t feel like it should be, considering what happens to some of the ‘very much real’ characters after the book’s end, yet, at the same time it’s already out there, available for human consumption, should one know where to look. It feels incredibly intrusive yet is it the author’s fault for creating this in the first place, or us for feeding off the details like hungry flies?Given the title and some of the more outlandish excerpts it’s easy to view this in the perspective of sarcastic memoir. The passages concerning his time at Might illuminate a willingness to be open about the dynamic between his flailing start-up and more established venture like Wired (which, for a time, operated in the same building) and does a fairly good job of taking apart the reasoning behind why people want to be celebrities and why he seems so desperate to tear down the people his magazine purports to celebrate. Then remember that this takes place during the early nineties when Internet culture and things like ‘The Real World’ were still in its nascent form, only starting to shape a generation that were fed a steady diet of MTV, gearing them up for a world where unlimited information exists.Which leads me back to my first-novel question. Because it certainly has that ‘Catcher in the Rye’ style of feeling entirely separate from the world and doing everything possible to hold that distance, simply because they are not you. They haven’t had your experiences. They didn’t have to senselessly lose both parents at such a young age. Yet, where Salinger diverts course is where Eggers infuses emotion, because after all he does care for his brother a great deal.And yes, it’s incredibly tempting to merely write this off as ‘Why me?’ posturing, except that there are several points in the book where other characters (himself included) call him out for parading his life for literary stardom. Most notably there’s an audition for MTV’s The Real World in which he attempts to convince the casting director of his life as supreme validation for the show and then proceeds to racially break down what he thinks are MTV’s obligations in casting such a show. Then there are the passages that involve John, a friend whose own troubles threaten to upstage Eggers. It’s only near the ending in which John has perhaps the truest words...something to the effect of misusing the people in his life to concoct a better story and blurring fact/fiction. That a suicidal friend gives him more story ammunition than someone who isn’t crazy or trying to kill himself.After thinking about it for a few days here’s what I’m left with the following: - Yes, it can become angst-ridden...but wouldn’t you be if you were in the same shoes?- Do the parts really fit into a cohesive whole or is death something to be used as a blanket?- How in the world did this end up as a finalist for a Pulitzer?So do we have an honest-to-goodness account of one family’s dissolution or a calculated effort to enter literary infamy? One is too naive and the other a bit soulless. It’s here that I can’t quite decide. The book plays both sides. It’s author too prescient. It knows the decision and yet steadfastly refuses to come down one way or the other.more
This memoir sings. I really cannot say enough wonderful things about it. It is angry, and hopeful, and joyful, and hilarious, and touching, and wonderfully alive. I pretty much couldn't put it down. Who cares abut writerly skill and pacing and characterization, even if all these elements are solid and well deserving of the critical acclaim it has received? This book is about a gut response, not an intellectual one. Go read it.more
After having read Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgard´s aitobiographical series "Min kamp", it was interesting (to say the least) to read Eggers´ autobiography. His approach is a bit more cautious than Knausgard´s; he admits to have changed names, and the book is closer to a book of fiction than the Min Kamp series. Also, Eggers bases his story on one particular part of his life: the loss of both his parents and his raising of his younger brother. It is nevertheless a tour-de-force of a book. Although the author at times seems to be too smug for his own good, he comments on it and in a way involves the reader into the reasoning behind telling the story in the way and manner he does. Some of the segments of the book are really inventively written, like the casting interview with MTV, others are incredibly strong and touching, like the sequence about his receiving his mother´s ashes. I wish I had left all the prefaces to the very end, these made more sensing reading after I had finished the main part of the book. I recommend this book to anyone who will be looking for an easy read that will challenge you all the way, and who enjoys authors that pour themselves into their storytelling.more
I think this book may have changed my life, yes.more
When you were young did you ever wonder what would happen if your parents died? I did.When I was about 15 or 16 my dad became quite ill; he was hospitalized for a while and almost died. We knew that the possibility of is death was a very real thing. The tension was staggering. I was the oldest of six kids. What do you think the second thought on my mind was at the time? ~"What if something happened to Mom too?"Thinking back on it now I can't believe that there wasn't some sort of plan in place and I really believe there wasn't. By that point we either had no grandparents living or just one who was old and very ill. We had one aunt on my mom's side and she was divorced and pretty frazzled with the raising of her only son. We had one uncle on my dad's side who seemed like a possibility as they were raising three kids as old or older than myself; but we weren't really close to them emotionally and I can't imagine the financial burden of raising six kids on top of the emotional strain.Really...who's going to raise SIX kids that aren't their responsibility?I was certain that I'd do it. I really thought I could. I was also certain that the only possible solution I could imagine was for us kids to be split up among different people; family...close family friends... I was determined that if that had to happen due to my young age, I would work to be able to take custody of everyone as soon as I was old enough.Dave Eggers' Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius explores a very similar situation that really happened.Yes, he works very hard to convince the reader that it is fictional, at least only based on truth; his truth. My friend and I both feel that he doth protest too much though. We believe it is autobiographical. At the age of 21 Dave and his older siblings expected their mother's death; sooner than later. What they didn't expect was a death-sentence-diagnosis for their dad that resulted in his almost instantaneous and previously unexpected death.Their youngest sibling was 7 years old. It was decided that Dave would take on most of the responsibility of raising Christopher ("Toph").Dave gives word to feelings all parents experience at one time or another. It seems that perhaps he experiences them more frequently though. As the mom of five kids ranging in age from 5 to 15 I admit to having experienced most of the concerns he explores. In truth, I've wondered as he did whether or not something horrifying might happen to one of my children due to the awful selfishness I've exhibited by needing a bit of "me time" or "us time" for my husband and me. Overall, I've always been able to keep those feelings from ruining life for all of us. They are crippling thoughts but I've never allowed them to cripple me. Can you imagine the "case" I'd be if I did. Five kids, remember?So, Dave explores all of this.He does so with a book that is mostly written as a string-of-consciousness-sort-of-thing. My brother pointed out that such writing can become exhausting or annoying. I felt that due to the subject matter it really worked though. I liked it. I could feel what he was feeling.Dave really cornered my market when he was thinking about how lucky Toph was to be hanging out with him and how lucky he was to be exposed to the great music Dave enjoyed... Oh yeah. He even explored the idea of homeschooling Toph because he was envious of how much time the teachers spent with him.As a mom who homeschooled all of our kids until our oldest was finished with sixth grade, and then some others longer, I attempted to expose our kids to the best of everything from all time periods: books, movies, music. There is so much more to life than today's available choices. Still, one worries about recreating yourself via your children (if we're honest). That is not something we wanted to have happen. We only want for them to be well rounded individuals who can related to people of all ages.Here is a quote that expresses part of Dave's obvious concern:"...when someone noticed him (Toph) for being him(self), we would all have to stand back a second and see him for what he actually was, at least superficially: a seventh-grade boy. Of course, he had a difficult time discerning, himself. He had recently made this clear, when he and Marny and I were driving back from the beach. She and I were talking about one of the new interns, who, at twenty-two, was much younger than we had assumed~"Really?" said Toph. "I though he was our age."Sure, mistakes were made in the raising of Toph.We ALL make mistakes. All. The. Time.The real point is the great love fostered between the two. They grew and they grew together. They were a team, united. They made the best of a horrifying situation. they made it work.I appreciated Eggers' raw honesty.Oh...I also appreciated the sense of humor he exhibited in the titling of his book.He acknowledged the fact that everyone who would read his book would be able to pick it apart. They'd be able to find a million and one things wrong with it; and so he poked fun at the self-inflated idea of writing a book about yourself, about your own loss, and expecting others to read it.I read it.I liked it.more
This is a frenzied journey of a Gen Y ego driven twenty something. Dave's stream of conciousness makes for intriguing reading though it does get tiresome and I had to put it down and walk away for a little while so it took me about 3 days to read. Its also exhausting reading for the same reason - plus all that youth and drama and possibility. I'd recommend skipping the notes (in the paperback version that preface the story) and just start with the story - read all the notes, addenums etc when you have finished if you manage to last that long.more
I *almost* completely agree with the title. It is a heartbreaking (and sometimes hilarious) book of genius (not quite staggering, but not shabby at all). Eggers keeps readers on their toes with changes of pace and tone, by sometimes skipping around in the story, and by having characters break the third wall a few times--but somehow it all works. I couldn't put it down, and now that I'm done I wish I had a sequel or an afterward so I know how Dave and Toph ended up. (Thank goodness for McSweeney's and Wikipedia.) I can already tell that Dave's voice will be breaking into my reveries for weeks to come. I highly recommend this book.more
My love for this book is improbable at best. I usually can't stand this kind of style. In the summary above, Mary Park calls it memoir as metafiction. I call it McSweeneyism. I find it excruciating.So the fact that I love AHWOSG -- can still remember the first line, in fact -- perplexes me. I try not to dwell on it. Maybe you don't need a reason to fall in love, with a book or anything else.more
An achingly hip, smugly knowing and oddly cheery version of a misery memoir. Eggers freely admits that the book is rambling, uneven and filled to overflowing with post-modern fanciness, and he's right. Still, if you're pulled in by the title, as I was, then you'll enjoy the author's style; if not, there's no point cracking the spine.more
I loved this book so much when it came out. I read his two following books, which just annoyed me with their "I am a hipster so achingly self aware I can barely function" -ness. I hear his newest is better, so maybe I will give him another shot.more
The saddest book that made me laugh out loud, it has changed the way I look at loss, at parenting and at writing. Eggers may well be an extraordinary genius, but he makes it sound like normal people behaving in extraordinary ways. Hitting home the hardest were the passages when he left Toph alone and imagined all the horrible things that could happen while he was gone (been there, done that).more
 When I first started this book, my response was wow brilliance. Dave Eggers writes Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius as if you are listening to his mind. The book starts out with the death of his father and him mother in final stages of cancer, both parents pass within weeks of one another. The story then continues as Dave becomes the caregiver of his much younger brother. I only made it a third of the way through his book before giving up. The originality that at first I thought was brilliance quickly became very annoying. I found out I only every want to spend any length of time in my head. This one will be going to the donation center (aka Library) where I hope someone else will be able to enjoy it or finish it.more
I truly despised this book, but I made myself finish it.more
After I started reading this I wasn't able to stop. Its incredible personal sadness and lively social criticism is a solid combination worth the length of the book.more
An impressive, but also self-indulgent work. Reading Eggers is rarely dull!more
Read all 112 reviews

Reviews

A.H.W.O.S.G. is a well written memoir, it just was not for me. At its core there is a protagonist that is shaped by tragedy, decides to live his life trying to escape the consequences and responsibilities that life brings his way. As the book unfolded, I realized that I neither admired the main character nor connected with his mistakes and overall cared little about him one way or another. While individual paragraphs were witty and amusing, I soon found myself skimming chapters wondering when I could start another book.more
I tried to like this book, really and truly I did. I thought it would be clever and unusual and brilliantly worded like a David Foster Wallace book can be. After all, I'd unfortunately paid good money for it. And it's not easy to be so critical about an autobiographical book in which the author's parents die and leave him raising his much younger brother - you really want to root for this book and the author behind it.But it's awful. It doesn't matter whether Eggers really believes he's clever or is merely posturing as such for a lark. I'm sorry to be harsh, but if Mr. Eggers is anything in person like he is on the page, people must flee the room when they see him moving their way at a cocktail party. I can't explain why I felt compelled to finish this dull and tedious book, other than I felt it simply *had* to get better at some point. It doesn't.Do yourself a HUGE favor: pass this one by. I wish Mr. Eggers and his family all the best, but a decent turn of phrase once in a while does not an author make. Don't believe anyone who would have you think that critics of this book simply don't 'get' it. In this case, there is no substance whatsoever and precious little in the smoke-and-mirrors department, either.If you're looking for clever and/or funny, you'd be better off with Richard Russo's fabulous "Straight Man", Tom Perrotta's "Little Children", Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love", John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy Of Dunces" or a thousand other books I could rattle off. Really, ANY book is better than AHWOSG. It's that bad. Sorry. :)more
I really tried to finish this since I feel it's unfair to say it was horrible without reading the whole thing, but I just couldn't. Life is just too short. I was dreading it every time I picked it back up and finally read about 3/4 of it until I couldn't take it anymore. I was sure it was going to get better. It had to. It didn't.

I really felt like this book was not only pointless, it was a con. There was no story and no talent for telling one. It was like be trapped at a party with someone who won't stop telling insanely boring stories about themselves, and can't even tell them well.

There seems to be this idea (in books, movies, music, art) that you can just produce crap and it's OK, and witty, and clever, and somehow becomes good as long as you let everyone know you think it's crap too. I don't understand that line of thinking.

bbmore
Man, I found this tiresome. I love what Dave Eggers is doing for literature right now, let me state that at the beginning. But this book ... eh. I felt like I was listening to some half-drunk, privileged and over-educated guy from college prattle on about his life and his dreams. Y'know, I didn't even enjoy that when I was in college.more
I can't believe it took me so long to get to this one. I really liked it, even if the too-precious opening really put me off at first.more
Laugh out loud funny in parts and, despite the subject matter, surprisingly uplifting.more
This book has flaws. A randomness that fails to support a narrative for one. But all of it is done with a self-awareness and vividness that makes this book a character piece, and a brilliant one at that. The stream of judgmental or paranoid ramblings are generally balanced by the self-doubt and guilt displayed by Eggers over his actions.Eggers is a refreshing voice, a hipster that admits he really wants all those things he says he too cool to want.more
Heartwarming account of how the writer, following the death of both parents, at the age of 22 years becomes the carer of his 8 year old brother. The evident brotherly love they share, and the protective care the writer shows for his sibling is most touching. The title in not an exaggeration.more
A great book. The title says it all. Really.more
Walking past a charity stall this book caught my eye.I realised the title was ironic when I saw the author, unknown to me, went by the name of Dave, more amusing for the fact that three of the testimonials on the dust cover are provided by literary heavyweights whose first name is given as the full David. Intrigued, I invested the paltry purchase price demanded for this pristine hardback of £0.50 (35c).I was quite taken aback by the number of reviews for this mystery book and the polarised nature of them, nothing less than love or hate not only for the work but also for the author.Worse, I have an inbuilt aversion to the very mention of Gen X/Gen Y or PoMo; I mean seriously, no shades of grey there then, and those terms are liberally spread in reviews, especially the more negative ones.So, Eggers must be some kind of pretentious, privileged, spoiled brat yet also managing to succeed against enormous odds of losing both parents to cancer whilst barely out of his teens, and assuming the terrifying and weighty responsibility of caring for and nurturing a much younger sibling. Something doesn't stack up. I approached the book with heightened interest and an open mind for better or worse.After enduring an uncomfortable, and apparently self indulgent and lengthy introduction, I sensed a challenge to the reader, almost a confrontation to pre judge and be proved wrong. It's a strange thing, acknowleded by the author as such, to put out of context outtakes and editorial cullings at the beginning of the book, lest they be forgotten or become irrelevant by the end. Still, an insight into the writer's 'Gen X PoMo' quirkiness was gained, though little of the reality of the more contemporary prose to be revealed once the memoir got underway, and the motive remains unclear other than as an ironic sop to expectations of those familiar with his other published work (which I am not).So, is the story heartbreaking? Of course, how could it not be? Following the trauma of the death of his parents, heartbreaks abound in the form of the near fatal accident and uncertain recovery of a close friend, and the on off suicidal tendencies of another friend with whom Eggers has to wrestle with how much tough love, how much bullshit, how much anger, how much bluff calling, is enough.Yet Eggers never seeks sympathy nor sets out to break the reader's heart.Eggers certainly gives of himself, and not moreso than to his little brother Christopher, known as Toph, whom he assumes full time care of following the early death of their mother. Eggers deep love, admiration and sense of loss for his mother is an ever present value and Toph is the beneficiary of his love to burn. The death of his father coming months before that of his mother is less of a defining event and the relationship between father and son is more distant, the weaknessess and failings of his father more deeply felt in comparison with the certitude of his mother.It is this genetic stoicism which enables Eggers to not only succeed in bringing Toph up, though at times chaotically, he was in his early 20s after all, but also to doggedly persist with being the guiding light of a small, determined bunch of like minds in publishing a satrical periodical.To appreciate the sheer scale of Eggers' achievements through much adversity and to appreciate the minutae of life in his circumstances, the daily challenges of providing, paying bills and survival, through responsibility assumed not sought, it is, of course, essential to read the book.Eggers frequently writes from his consciousness and this, I think is where some readers mistake his thoughts for reality. He often talks to himself through brotherly and paternal rants with Toph or imaginary conversations, and it is in these where any hints of bitterness or self pity arise, after all who couldn't feel similarly, and yet there is no suggestion whatsoever that these inner thoughts are ever revealed in his actions or his dealings with other people, even those who may deserve to hear some self serving diatribe. Indeed the opposite is true, most obviously at Toph's schools where Eggers abjectly fails to seek any advantage in his circumstances to gain preferential treatment and certainly empathy is the last thing on the minds of various landlords in his quests for a decent place to live with his brother.Eggers may yearn to go out and paint the town red but his fraternal instincts become paternal and he is suprisingly conservative in his values.Perhaps the most uncomfortable revelations are in his sentiments towards old people, especially those who display signs of enjoying life, though I believe he is conciously portraying a phobia due to trauma and suppressed anger of realisation that his own parents could never achieve that elderly state as this trait flies in the face of his devotion to his sadly decaying mother.Later in the book there is a passage concerning the fate of the ashes of his mother for which crticism and hasty judgement has been levelled in some reviews. In fact the reasons for why a burial was not arranged following her passing is fully explained and understandable, Eggers also feels a futility in a showy, quasi religious event, for which he can hardly be blamed, especially given the paltry turn out for his father's funeral, though he spends little time blaming God for his or their plight.In time it is Eggers alone, rather than the older siblings one might expect to take charge, who returns over the thousands of miles to the erstwhile family home to track down the ashes and then finds himself unexpectedly attached to the cremains of his mother until his mind clears to enable a solution.The closing section of the book, which may well be of near staggering genius, reveals that, having seemingly moved on, and in a moment of perfect peace shared with Toph, the scars which run deep reopen, the concerns of appearing different, the memories of good times and the worst of times, subliminally or conciously are omnipresent and forever shape the here and now.Eggers' story is as worthy of being told as any other memoir I can think of. I am left with an impression that if he has any genius it is for his self awareness and genuine humility whilst appearing to some as self serving and arrogant.I suspect Eggers is as satisfied and comfortable with that paradox, as am I that I instinctively decided to pick up and then read this very fine and highly commendable book.more
I suspect that if you were to take every author who’s had the chance to write more than one book in their lifetime that there’s a kind of connection or chart or graph that could illustrate an author’s first novel with his literary path (read: motive). Thinking over the years of books that an author may have penned in his or her twenties (or thirties, if you wait like DeLillo) I’m tempted to conclude that either you write something entirely given to memory, recreating events, attempting to create some kind of catharsis and letting the reader gorge upon its importance...OR. You write something small, slim, something that feels introductory but sparse in details. Sentence constructions are concise and to the point. Something that stands on its own. Think about it. Jonathan Ames and Bret Easton Ellis both contributed to the latter with I Pass Like Night and Less Than Zero (also in this category: Catcher in the Rye, Gun, With Occasional Music, etc...). From the latter you get stuff memory-laden stuff like Auster’s Invention of Solitude or the book Dave Eggers wrote in his mid-twenties.Alright, so the model isn’t entirely representative of the full spectrum of novelists. But after reading Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius I find myself wanting to investigate the trend that I’ve just highlighted. Seething from under this book’s cover is much rage and confusion in its 400+ pages. There’s also a fair amount of venting, macabre pontificating, and much ‘what is it all for’ question-asking on the readers part.And what does it all come to? What does it speak of? What’s the point? Is a first-novel supposed to speak volumes of your character and ambition as a writer? I don’t mean to ask because I find Eggers book lacking or without merit. I’m now keenly interested in the answer. Is any kind of literary introduction just self-reflective writing borne from a need to make others absolutely KNOW what you’ve been through?Eggers (creator of the popular, and decidedly indie, zine, McSweeneys) book is a fictionalized memoir from just before the point he, his sister, Beth, and two brothers, Bill (mostly absent young republican) and Toph (heart of the story) lose both their mother and father (from stomach, and brain and lung cancer, respectively). Having decided on a clean start from their suburban Lake Forest home just outside of Chicago the clan decides to move to California, where Beth is currently attending law school at Berkeley and Dave seemingly single-handedly raises his 8 year old brother Toph while trying to both shield his brother from their recent tragedy and figure out the best way to assimilate him into a life that doesn’t seem any less normal than the neighbor next door.And here’s where it gets tricky. Throughout the book Eggers breaks his fourth wall down to address the reader directly. Sometimes it concerns how actual events played out or how a person’s sidestory might confuse the reader into thinking he/she had a bigger role in Dave’s life despite the very opposite being true. At several points it is made aware that Dave is carrying around a notebook and tape recorder with the intention of jotting his own feelings to be used in some grander narrative. No doubt the story’s center pulls at even the most cantankerous person’s heart strings. I mean, how could it not. Certainly I was thinking of my own parents in those early passages. I sometimes like to think that in dire circumstances people are able to come together to give each other a break. Through these issues: the finding of and disposing of the ashes, the funeral recreation, the final bedside moments. All of the memories and experiences that lead Dave to question why people aren’t more forgiving of his situation... Once you find out that it was someone other than Dave who was originally given the responsibility of raising Toph you begin to wonder why it was that him, the second youngest child (who ultimately dropped out of college to accommodate his younger brother), and not the oldest (Bill, who already had a job at a think-tank operation) who raised Toph. Why did the mature Eggers clan decide not to have a proper burial for their parents? Where are the aunts and uncles to help alleviate some of the stress of having to care for your 8-year-old brother?Instead of elaborate details surrounding the Eggers extended familial situation you get Dave plodding on at his job founding the doomed-to-fail Might magazine and wondering what it would be like to properly enjoy his youthful twenties instead of frantically positing on why the (possibly) Scottish babysitter would want to murder his brother.Is this material fair game? It doesn’t feel like it should be, considering what happens to some of the ‘very much real’ characters after the book’s end, yet, at the same time it’s already out there, available for human consumption, should one know where to look. It feels incredibly intrusive yet is it the author’s fault for creating this in the first place, or us for feeding off the details like hungry flies?Given the title and some of the more outlandish excerpts it’s easy to view this in the perspective of sarcastic memoir. The passages concerning his time at Might illuminate a willingness to be open about the dynamic between his flailing start-up and more established venture like Wired (which, for a time, operated in the same building) and does a fairly good job of taking apart the reasoning behind why people want to be celebrities and why he seems so desperate to tear down the people his magazine purports to celebrate. Then remember that this takes place during the early nineties when Internet culture and things like ‘The Real World’ were still in its nascent form, only starting to shape a generation that were fed a steady diet of MTV, gearing them up for a world where unlimited information exists.Which leads me back to my first-novel question. Because it certainly has that ‘Catcher in the Rye’ style of feeling entirely separate from the world and doing everything possible to hold that distance, simply because they are not you. They haven’t had your experiences. They didn’t have to senselessly lose both parents at such a young age. Yet, where Salinger diverts course is where Eggers infuses emotion, because after all he does care for his brother a great deal.And yes, it’s incredibly tempting to merely write this off as ‘Why me?’ posturing, except that there are several points in the book where other characters (himself included) call him out for parading his life for literary stardom. Most notably there’s an audition for MTV’s The Real World in which he attempts to convince the casting director of his life as supreme validation for the show and then proceeds to racially break down what he thinks are MTV’s obligations in casting such a show. Then there are the passages that involve John, a friend whose own troubles threaten to upstage Eggers. It’s only near the ending in which John has perhaps the truest words...something to the effect of misusing the people in his life to concoct a better story and blurring fact/fiction. That a suicidal friend gives him more story ammunition than someone who isn’t crazy or trying to kill himself.After thinking about it for a few days here’s what I’m left with the following: - Yes, it can become angst-ridden...but wouldn’t you be if you were in the same shoes?- Do the parts really fit into a cohesive whole or is death something to be used as a blanket?- How in the world did this end up as a finalist for a Pulitzer?So do we have an honest-to-goodness account of one family’s dissolution or a calculated effort to enter literary infamy? One is too naive and the other a bit soulless. It’s here that I can’t quite decide. The book plays both sides. It’s author too prescient. It knows the decision and yet steadfastly refuses to come down one way or the other.more
This memoir sings. I really cannot say enough wonderful things about it. It is angry, and hopeful, and joyful, and hilarious, and touching, and wonderfully alive. I pretty much couldn't put it down. Who cares abut writerly skill and pacing and characterization, even if all these elements are solid and well deserving of the critical acclaim it has received? This book is about a gut response, not an intellectual one. Go read it.more
After having read Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgard´s aitobiographical series "Min kamp", it was interesting (to say the least) to read Eggers´ autobiography. His approach is a bit more cautious than Knausgard´s; he admits to have changed names, and the book is closer to a book of fiction than the Min Kamp series. Also, Eggers bases his story on one particular part of his life: the loss of both his parents and his raising of his younger brother. It is nevertheless a tour-de-force of a book. Although the author at times seems to be too smug for his own good, he comments on it and in a way involves the reader into the reasoning behind telling the story in the way and manner he does. Some of the segments of the book are really inventively written, like the casting interview with MTV, others are incredibly strong and touching, like the sequence about his receiving his mother´s ashes. I wish I had left all the prefaces to the very end, these made more sensing reading after I had finished the main part of the book. I recommend this book to anyone who will be looking for an easy read that will challenge you all the way, and who enjoys authors that pour themselves into their storytelling.more
I think this book may have changed my life, yes.more
When you were young did you ever wonder what would happen if your parents died? I did.When I was about 15 or 16 my dad became quite ill; he was hospitalized for a while and almost died. We knew that the possibility of is death was a very real thing. The tension was staggering. I was the oldest of six kids. What do you think the second thought on my mind was at the time? ~"What if something happened to Mom too?"Thinking back on it now I can't believe that there wasn't some sort of plan in place and I really believe there wasn't. By that point we either had no grandparents living or just one who was old and very ill. We had one aunt on my mom's side and she was divorced and pretty frazzled with the raising of her only son. We had one uncle on my dad's side who seemed like a possibility as they were raising three kids as old or older than myself; but we weren't really close to them emotionally and I can't imagine the financial burden of raising six kids on top of the emotional strain.Really...who's going to raise SIX kids that aren't their responsibility?I was certain that I'd do it. I really thought I could. I was also certain that the only possible solution I could imagine was for us kids to be split up among different people; family...close family friends... I was determined that if that had to happen due to my young age, I would work to be able to take custody of everyone as soon as I was old enough.Dave Eggers' Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius explores a very similar situation that really happened.Yes, he works very hard to convince the reader that it is fictional, at least only based on truth; his truth. My friend and I both feel that he doth protest too much though. We believe it is autobiographical. At the age of 21 Dave and his older siblings expected their mother's death; sooner than later. What they didn't expect was a death-sentence-diagnosis for their dad that resulted in his almost instantaneous and previously unexpected death.Their youngest sibling was 7 years old. It was decided that Dave would take on most of the responsibility of raising Christopher ("Toph").Dave gives word to feelings all parents experience at one time or another. It seems that perhaps he experiences them more frequently though. As the mom of five kids ranging in age from 5 to 15 I admit to having experienced most of the concerns he explores. In truth, I've wondered as he did whether or not something horrifying might happen to one of my children due to the awful selfishness I've exhibited by needing a bit of "me time" or "us time" for my husband and me. Overall, I've always been able to keep those feelings from ruining life for all of us. They are crippling thoughts but I've never allowed them to cripple me. Can you imagine the "case" I'd be if I did. Five kids, remember?So, Dave explores all of this.He does so with a book that is mostly written as a string-of-consciousness-sort-of-thing. My brother pointed out that such writing can become exhausting or annoying. I felt that due to the subject matter it really worked though. I liked it. I could feel what he was feeling.Dave really cornered my market when he was thinking about how lucky Toph was to be hanging out with him and how lucky he was to be exposed to the great music Dave enjoyed... Oh yeah. He even explored the idea of homeschooling Toph because he was envious of how much time the teachers spent with him.As a mom who homeschooled all of our kids until our oldest was finished with sixth grade, and then some others longer, I attempted to expose our kids to the best of everything from all time periods: books, movies, music. There is so much more to life than today's available choices. Still, one worries about recreating yourself via your children (if we're honest). That is not something we wanted to have happen. We only want for them to be well rounded individuals who can related to people of all ages.Here is a quote that expresses part of Dave's obvious concern:"...when someone noticed him (Toph) for being him(self), we would all have to stand back a second and see him for what he actually was, at least superficially: a seventh-grade boy. Of course, he had a difficult time discerning, himself. He had recently made this clear, when he and Marny and I were driving back from the beach. She and I were talking about one of the new interns, who, at twenty-two, was much younger than we had assumed~"Really?" said Toph. "I though he was our age."Sure, mistakes were made in the raising of Toph.We ALL make mistakes. All. The. Time.The real point is the great love fostered between the two. They grew and they grew together. They were a team, united. They made the best of a horrifying situation. they made it work.I appreciated Eggers' raw honesty.Oh...I also appreciated the sense of humor he exhibited in the titling of his book.He acknowledged the fact that everyone who would read his book would be able to pick it apart. They'd be able to find a million and one things wrong with it; and so he poked fun at the self-inflated idea of writing a book about yourself, about your own loss, and expecting others to read it.I read it.I liked it.more
This is a frenzied journey of a Gen Y ego driven twenty something. Dave's stream of conciousness makes for intriguing reading though it does get tiresome and I had to put it down and walk away for a little while so it took me about 3 days to read. Its also exhausting reading for the same reason - plus all that youth and drama and possibility. I'd recommend skipping the notes (in the paperback version that preface the story) and just start with the story - read all the notes, addenums etc when you have finished if you manage to last that long.more
I *almost* completely agree with the title. It is a heartbreaking (and sometimes hilarious) book of genius (not quite staggering, but not shabby at all). Eggers keeps readers on their toes with changes of pace and tone, by sometimes skipping around in the story, and by having characters break the third wall a few times--but somehow it all works. I couldn't put it down, and now that I'm done I wish I had a sequel or an afterward so I know how Dave and Toph ended up. (Thank goodness for McSweeney's and Wikipedia.) I can already tell that Dave's voice will be breaking into my reveries for weeks to come. I highly recommend this book.more
My love for this book is improbable at best. I usually can't stand this kind of style. In the summary above, Mary Park calls it memoir as metafiction. I call it McSweeneyism. I find it excruciating.So the fact that I love AHWOSG -- can still remember the first line, in fact -- perplexes me. I try not to dwell on it. Maybe you don't need a reason to fall in love, with a book or anything else.more
An achingly hip, smugly knowing and oddly cheery version of a misery memoir. Eggers freely admits that the book is rambling, uneven and filled to overflowing with post-modern fanciness, and he's right. Still, if you're pulled in by the title, as I was, then you'll enjoy the author's style; if not, there's no point cracking the spine.more
I loved this book so much when it came out. I read his two following books, which just annoyed me with their "I am a hipster so achingly self aware I can barely function" -ness. I hear his newest is better, so maybe I will give him another shot.more
The saddest book that made me laugh out loud, it has changed the way I look at loss, at parenting and at writing. Eggers may well be an extraordinary genius, but he makes it sound like normal people behaving in extraordinary ways. Hitting home the hardest were the passages when he left Toph alone and imagined all the horrible things that could happen while he was gone (been there, done that).more
 When I first started this book, my response was wow brilliance. Dave Eggers writes Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius as if you are listening to his mind. The book starts out with the death of his father and him mother in final stages of cancer, both parents pass within weeks of one another. The story then continues as Dave becomes the caregiver of his much younger brother. I only made it a third of the way through his book before giving up. The originality that at first I thought was brilliance quickly became very annoying. I found out I only every want to spend any length of time in my head. This one will be going to the donation center (aka Library) where I hope someone else will be able to enjoy it or finish it.more
I truly despised this book, but I made myself finish it.more
After I started reading this I wasn't able to stop. Its incredible personal sadness and lively social criticism is a solid combination worth the length of the book.more
An impressive, but also self-indulgent work. Reading Eggers is rarely dull!more
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