Monday, June 23, 2008

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

This book got a lot of publicity when it was first issued in 2000. Eggers owns McSweeney's, the publishing house, and publishes a monthly literary magazine. He's one of the young writers who came of age at the millennium, and his work has a unique style.

I found the book on a shelf of a house I was staying in, and decided to read it mainly to see how it read 8 years after its debut. I've often thought that many books that stand out for their unique style get dated very quickly, but I didn't find that to be true for this one.

The narrative line for the book is Eggers struggle to raise his young brother after their parents both die. Eggers was just finishing college, and his brother was eight at the time, and, even though Eggers wasn't truly ready to take on the responsibility, the brothers' other two siblings were in even less ideal circumstances.

If he'd written this as a standard "I did something remarkable" kind of memoir I'm sure it would have sold a few thousand copies and gone into the returns bin. But this is a long way from a standard memoir.

His style is unique, and that's probably best. Not because it's not entertaining, but because it's so unique that it would be trite and silly to try to replicate it. It's hard to describe, but the book has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it. Actually, it feels like he's talking to you in real time in a few spots. It also seems a bit like a diary, where the diarist is often kicking himself in the ass. At times it has a "let's write a novel!" energy, like a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie where the characters have no business putting on a play in dad's barn but manage to present a polished work.

The paperback version, which I read, has a large addendum of the mistakes made in the book that's printed upside-down at the back of the book. Eggers is also a cartoonish/artist, and he includes all sorts of little drawings and schema.

In many ways it's very amateurish, but that's part of its charm. He's trying to write this book while getting his little brother to school, having water-balloon fights, sliding on their socks through the house, and not cleaning their apartment. The writing is so unselfconscious that it wouldn't surprise me to learn that his young brother had written it. That's not to say it's immature. It's just that childlike.

I definitely recommend the book, but only for those who are amenable to something callow and wide-eyed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fare thee well, New York. I hope to return soon.

My partner and I have sold our co-op to take refuge in New Jersey while waiting for the real estate market to settle down. I hate to leave New York, but we had the opportunity to capture a gain, and we try to use our analytical minds in decisions like these, rather than our hearts. Not that there's anything wrong with New Jersey, of course. We really enjoy being down the shore. But we both like a more lively night life, so New York is much more in sync with our needs.

I saw the following on the subway last night and it seemed so perfect that I wanted to share it. It's by one of my favorite New Yorkers, E.B. White.

There are roughly three New Yorks.

There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable.

Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night.

Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.

Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

Susan from Jersey