DAVE EGGERS: what do you think so far?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : The Book Club : One Thread

His title is too long, so I think we'll put the author's name in the headers for this one.

I haven't started it yet, so I don't have anything to say. But I know some of you have already read all or part of it, so I thought I'd give you a space to stat discussions. If you have specific issues you want to discuss, feel free to start new threads. Just try to start them with DAVE EGGERS in all caps so it's easy to spot topics on the main page.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), March 02, 2000


Just got my copy of the book, haven't started it yet but I thought I'd mention the following, especially for anyone who'd like to get a taste of the story and the style before buying the book.

Dave Eggers read a short section from the book on the This American Life radio program. To listen to the ten-minute reading in Real Audio, go to http://www.thislife.org/ and do a search on Eggers.

-- Helene Green (snooze.bar@gte.net), March 03, 2000.

I do want to get this book, ever since I read an article on the author in New York Magazine. Okay, now I have a reason to get it right away without waiting, hopefully I'll have time to read the book as well!

-- Kymm (hedgehog@hedgehog.net), March 04, 2000.

Do we have any rules about how much we can say before we know how much anyone's read? I'm about halfway through and have lots to say (like don't miss the essays on the publisher's info page) but I don't want to ruin in for anyone.

Wednesday when I got the book in the mail, I told my husband I was going off to sleep with David Eggers, and to his raised eyebrows merely flourished the book. When on Thursday he actually read the title, he was surprised and amused because he'd heard Eggers on NPR and thought I'd like it but I bought it for myself first. I've been reading him bits so far--it's like that, you can hear only discrete bits when your wife is giggling madly and those bits make sense or at least are funny without context.

-- Lisa Houlihan (lisa@penguindust.com), March 04, 2000.

I've been thinking about rules regarding spoilers, Lisa, especially now that I've finished Midwives ... which is a courtroom drama with some twists at the end. I'm thinking that it's okay to discuss general developments in the book, with perhaps a note at the beginning of your post in all caps: DON'T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN'T GOTTEN TO CHAPTER 22 AND YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. Use your judgment.

With a book like Midwives that really might be ruined if everything is given away (but where the ending is worthy of discussion in terms of the entire book), we probably want to start a whole separate thread for people who have already finished the book to talk about the ending. In fact, I think I'll do that.

I just started the Eggers book and I have a question for those of you who are further along: is he serious about the preface being skippable? Because that tiny little typeface is driving me mad.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), March 05, 2000.

yes beth, in fact, his recommendation that you skip the intro and read it later if you've gotten to the end of the book & have nothing else to read is perfect. i started with the intro, got antsy, skiped to the book, read it & later returned to read the intro -- at which point it made way more sense anyway.

in other words, skip to the book.

-- rja (palegirl@rebekah.org), March 05, 2000.

I started reading the preface, and while it was enjoyable enough, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. And yeah, that teeny typeface is irritating. So I'm going to stop reading the preface and skip to the start of the book.

-- Mary Ellen (mary_ellen@mindspring.com), March 06, 2000.

Oh, and I just stumbled upon this link, and it cracked me up...

-- Mary Ellen (mary_ellen@mindspring.com), March 06, 2000.

I am halfway through and don't like it that much. I like McSweeny's a lot more, and I use to love his mag Might. And I also loved hearing him on the radio. I think Eggers is a lot better in small doses. And no matter what the critics say, he's no David Foster Wallace. He says this is not a book he would have read if he didn't write it. I don't think he was kidding.

-- hmmm yeah (chiop@altavista.com), March 06, 2000.

I just bought the book on the way home, and immediately knew I'd like it because of the copy under the author photo. It's a photo of him with a dog, and it says something like "This is not his dog."

I love that kind of thing. In the Mystery Science Theatre book, they did little bios of all the cast members holding the same dog. It was just ... so ... odd.

--Gael Get your daily dose of Web weirdness at Pop Culture Junk Mail

-- Gael Cooper (gaelfc@hotmail.com), March 06, 2000.

Be warned that I've read the whole thing

If Eggers said this isn't the sort of book he'd read if he hadn't written it, I'd believe him. My husband, who heard it, said that in the NPR interview he said he's read only one memoir and that one after he'd written this. The first rule (to break) for writers is to read plenty of the genre you write. He hasn't read memoir. (Is this memoir?)

Also I was expecting, based on the interview and the acknowledgments, for there to be a lot more self-referential meta stuff than there was. There were maybe half a dozen explicit breaks in the fourth wall (or whatever you call it in books not television--I wouldn't call it authorial intrusion for other reasons).

He himself also says it's not staggering, genius, or heartbreaking. He's right. It's good, it's amusing, but it struck me as the kind of book that wouldn't've got published if he hadn't had Connections. And he has to have had connections; magazines like Might (which I never heard of or saw in the flesh) don't get burgeon into the offices of the SF Chronicle or court the staff of Wired without them. He doesn't get explicit and tries to distance his family from the socioeconomic norm of Lake Forest, but someone knew someone who knew someone, I'd bet.

Eggers tries to avoid it and skirt the issue and then breaks to reveal that however painful and wrenching and unfair the deaths of both his parents were, he spent several chapters avoiding and skirting the fact of his father's brutal alcoholism. There's guilt there.

This bit you can read without having finished it:
I want an Eggers concordance. He talks about trying to read Catch-22 with his teenaged brother, and how they gave it up because setting the novel in its historical context was too difficult for a 12-year-old. But a few pages later he describes someone as apple-cheeked, which is a facial attribute Yossarian's roommate tries to achieve and about which they have one of Heller's more surreal conversations. So even though they quit reading C22, some of it stuck. I really like his allusions and I'm sure I missed lots, so keep an eye out.

-- Lisa Houlihan (lisa@penguindust.com), March 07, 2000.

I'm about halfway through. I do like it; in places I think it's wonderful. And there are times when it drags a bit. I think this is one where I won't form a final opinion until I'm finished with it.

Does anyone else feel as if they are reading through the archives of a particularly well-written online journal? Maybe it's just because his style occasionally (just occasionally) reminds me of Gregory Alkaitis-Carafelli.

One gripe so far: he has occasionally lapses in his present tense narrative, and it's driving me mad.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), March 07, 2000.

I bought the book last night and I am now to page 153. So far, there have been parts I found very entertaining and other parts I just skimmed over. I'll hold off on deciding how I feel about the book as a whole until I finish.

-- Amy (adgirl7@hotmail.com), March 08, 2000.

I've been reading bits of the book out loud to Jeremy. Lisa's right; it's good for that sort of thing.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), March 08, 2000.

I have only just started the book, but I'm completely engrossed in it already. The lapses in tense haven't really started to bother me -- and it reminds me of a really well-written journal, too.

-- Mary Ellen (mary_ellen@mindspring.com), March 08, 2000.

hmm, well, I read the whole thing and I have some general comments that will not in any way spoil the act of reading the book for anyone else.

I liked the book. I didn't love it and I didn't hate it. I thoroughly wish that Eggers had taken the time to tighten his focus. I was much more interested in his relationship with his brother and parents and girlfriends and that web that they all made in his life than I was the details of his work with Might magazine and occasionally irritating name-dropping. I got the feeling, when I closed the book, that it was the Great Book That Almost Was.

Unfortunately for me, I had just finished reading a good book on writing fiction, so I was hyper aware of authorial blunders and certain style choices that grated on me. One thing I hate in a book is authorial intrusion and self-reference. "Can I put this in the book?" kind of stuff. Taking notes on what he was going to write in the book. It all reminds me too much of reading a particularly bad John Markoff expose. I know that this isn't fiction, but I still find the style jarring, like the author is watching me read and asking questions.. "Did you get to the part where... yet?"

Overall, though, I can say that the story was interesting, the writing was occasionally brilliant, and I am glad I read it. I think I will read it again after all that I just read about writing dies down in my head. =)


-- Kiera (demonika@demonic.com), March 08, 2000.

I read it in 2 days and I really liked it. It was like having a conversation with a manic person.

There were parts in which, his use of meta devices started to wear on me. I would have to put the book down for a few minutes, even, and pick it back up again.

I love the descriptions of his brother and his parental worries. I would have liked more development about the relationships between the older siblings as well. I didn't need to hear anything more about the parents because the book wasn't about them.

I think it would be valuable to examine his style, rather than his story. It is definitely not typical memoir. At times, it is nothing more (or less) complicated than stream-of-consciousness.

I wonder if he plans to continue writing books. This one was like a 400 page magazine article. I can't imagine how he'll follow it up.

-- Allison (lowea@phscare.org), March 08, 2000.

Yes, Beth, it does read like an online journal--obviously not the 500 words a day entries strung together, but that kind of rambling, stream-of-consciousness writing. I like that, or at least, that style is a huge part of my daily reading intake, so when other aspects of the book began to annoy me, my loyalty to the form and the fact that he could make me giggle kept me going.

I also think he sounds like Douglas Coupland often. I suppose the comparison is a trite and obvious one, belying my ignorance ya ya ya, but it sticks: DC denies the Voice of a Generation label thing, but having written Generation X and Microserfs, he can't avoid it. Eggers doesn't claim (and hasn't yet been assigned) any similar role (he's young enough maybe to be Generation Y? So maybe he's the voice of the next generation), but he's got the kind of Been There, Done Everything kind of experience--the magazine, writing Jon Carroll's headlines, knowing folks on Wired. It's obvious that however much he denies the typical Lake Forest income, he benefited from growing up in that setting--he and his friends had to have had connections.

The meta stuff was my favorite! I'm sorry if it ruined or diminished the book for anyone. He does warn of it in the Acknowledgments (not the Preface, which I read second, as that's where spoilers often lurk). Also, in the Real World interview he says the interview is a good bridge to the second half, which will get more meta. But it didn't! There wasn't more meta in the second than the first half, and I was disappointed. I like knowing the process that an author goes through to create a book, I like to know that there's autobiographical influence. That's supposed to be a no- no, but I like it anyway. So for him to break the flow and turn to us, or have Toph or Toto or whoever turn to us, and show us the man behind the curtain and have the man behind the curtain show us the seems, seams, and scaffolding, I quite like.

-- Lisa Houlihan (lisa@penguindust.com), March 09, 2000.

I enjoyed the discussions of Might magazine, but I think that's only because I became aware of Might only for about the last four issues, and I miss it a lot, and I've always wondered what happened. I remember when the final issue was published and they didn't come right out and say it was the final issue, but instead dropped a lot of hints. I e-mailed the one e-mail address I could find in the issue and actually got an answer back that was vague at best, so I've always wondered what happened. But I can see how, if you don't care about Might, those parts of the book would be really boring and you'd be thinking, "Let's get back to your little brother! What's going on with him?"

I thought Eggers was incredibly honest in revealing the emotions surrounding his parents' deaths and having to take care of his brother. That was one thing that impressed me. Regardless of how much he tried to distance himself from those feelings, by claiming much of the book was untrue, he voiced some strong emotions.

I agree that the book could have used tightening up in places. At times, I felt like the writing was just a giant catharsis for him, and was messy because of that, and a good editor would have made the book more readable in spots (and fixed that verb tense problem).

-- Kim (fresh@fresh-hell.com), March 09, 2000.

What years does the book cover, does anyone know? I'm pretty sure Eggers is prime Gen X age group, but it's hard to tell without knowing his age.

-- Gael Cooper (gaelfc@hotmail.com), March 09, 2000.

I can't wait to get to the meta part, because this parents dying routine is terribly hard to read. And the fact that it's in a rather light, unemotional tone makes it worse, 'cause it makes it realer. I want to get back to the style of the preface and the acknowledgements, I want it to be light and funny again, light and funny, I say! Light!

-- Kymm Zuckert (hedgehog@hedgehog.net), March 10, 2000.

Gael, Toph is now an exchange h.s. student in Russia. I think Eggers is now 25-27, which is just on the border of Generations X and Y, I'd say. There are clues throughout the narrative of when it's set, few of which I remember. I think I pieced together that the deaths were in November 1992 and January 1993, but that would make Toph very young for an exchange trip--I'm a notoriously sloppy reader.

-- Lisa Houlihan (lisa@penguindust.com), March 12, 2000.

Eggers is now 29. Toph is 17. They live in Brooklyn.

-- gabby (gabby@enteract.com), March 13, 2000.

What I marvelled at, during my reading of AHWOSG, was the way that Eggers keeps everyone at arms length and yet still managed to gut punch me. The descriptions of his mother's demise, of his father's rapid onset illness, of scattering the ashes, revisiting the past - all of them are written in this too casual, too offhand manner that is easy to dismiss - we expect our writers (don't we?) to cue the symphony and let us know when BIG SCENES of GREAT EMOTIONAL IMPORT are occurring. We have become dependent on overly familiar manipulations of ourselves by authors - and when it doesn't happen in the way to which we've become used to, we don't know how to respond. We doubt the sincerity, don't we? How can Eggers be so flippant! Doesn't he care!

Here's how I felt: this is EXACTLY how I would treat a family disaster. My god, this IS how I treat family disasters - when it's too much, when my brain and heart will not process the pure hell I'm going through, it's easier, it's faster to gloss through it, handle it at arm's length. I know that I have to get through it, that there's too much still to be done and no time to break down and freak out now.

Eggers' tone is, as I said, too casual, too offhand - he's letting us know without being - as is the fashion in popular Oprah literature today - a complete drama queen, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, that this was HELL - that he got himself and Toph through it by the skin of his teeth, barely, just barely and they won! They survived and while there is joy in that success, damn - what a price.

I never doubted for a minute, the tempest of emotions laying just beneath the surface that Eggers knew would dilute the power of his narrative.

-- gabby (gabby@enteract.com), March 14, 2000.

I never doubted it either, Gabby. Of course, he comes back during some of his meta moments and makes sure you caught that he was glossing over things -- not that I think that's bad; it's all part of the self-effacing humor that makes this thing work.

It's an interesting contrast to Midwives, where one of my main gripes was the endless foreshadowing and repetition and overdramatization of events that were powerful enough on their own.

I hate to keep harping on the showing vs. telling issue, but this is a good example. I felt like the author of Midwives bashed me over the head with a lot of exposition about how this teenage narrator was feeling, and I didn't buy it. Eggers, by contrast, tells his story, and the events and the style give you clues to the emotions and how he deals with them, with no head-bashing.

With that background, the meta moments ("did you see that? did you see what I did there?") wind up being funny. If he were a less talented writer who went for the obvious hook, the meta moments would be unbearable.

-- Beth (beth@xeney.com), March 14, 2000.

I finished reading it on the train this morning. I loved it -- I can think of very little negative to say about it. The meta thing didn't bother me much, although I sometimes would lose interest and skim a paragraph or two. But I figure it's the type of book I'll reread a few times, to pick up the stuff I missed the first time around. Now I'm debating going back and reading the preface.

-- Mary Ellen (mary_ellen@mindspring.com), March 15, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ