Tara's Reviews > A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
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's review
Apr 29, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: navel-gazing-fiction

One of my least favorite books of all time. I think it's a lot of b.s., to be honest. I cringed with frustration as I turned every page, and I only wanted to finish it so that I could say I found nothing redeeming. Oh sure, he was flashy and could draw a cheap laugh, but it was like admiration for bubbles: it went nowhere and said nothing. Henry James this is not (I don't love HJ, but I know talent when I see it and this is self-examination for voyeuristic purposes). I was disgusted with the title when I first heard of it; though I can see the attempt at self-ridicule, eh, nope, he's pretty satisfied with himself. I then heard so much lovely stuff about it, which worries me now in retrospect, but I tried it with an open mind: Nope Buddy!

Why even go into the hundred reasons why it sucks, since the author is such a vapid creature full of style and lacking substance - the book doesn't really merit an intellectual attack. Really, I think it's every single thing that is wrong with certain aspects of modern literature. Foster Wallace and Eggers can suck my metaphorical dick, since they seem to exist for nothing else but their own pretension. Way to reveal modern angst boys, sorry that people a lot smarter did it better a hundred years ago, and said something relevant for people who weren't self-absorbed fops. I look forward to a future world cataclysm in which this book can be lost, and something worthwhile take its place in the literary canon. (Also, I apologize to all the people who really sincerely love this book. I know I like some things that can be deemed pretty trivial. And who knows, maybe the author is a nice enough guy. I just, I gotta say it, I really can't stand this book, and wish there were better books around to take away some of its appeal. Art for the ego just doesn't seem enough).

*since i've written my original review i've gotten lots of angry messages. first off, my respect for a book does not increase when its fans e-mail me to tell me Just How Wrong I Am for Not Loving it to Death. i've been told what a hipster i am for disliking it (?), and how much i must love the sitcom 'frazier'. again: ? Whoa. This review was just my opinion. I read this book seven years ago, when i was 18 years old. I did not like it. It is not what I would describe as good literature. I thought the author was playing tricks with language, but unlike a lot of other authors, he was doing it to be showy instead of pursuing where words can go and the impact they can have. I did think they were bubbles, and bubbles may be nice, bubbles can be fun, but bubbles don't last. I just don't think it warrants the place in literature it currently seems to. If you have a problem with this review not being specific enough (as I've been told), let me know and i'll be happy to write you an eight page paper telling you why it's ridiculous for thinking a goodreads review should be the end-all of insights into a book.

**For the record, I think there's nothing "Cool Kid" about this review. Define 'Cool.' Pointless exercise. I love Justin Timberlake. I just don't think this was a great book like Timberlake is an irresistible performer.

My memories of the book have grown hazy, and I did write my first review while living in New Orleans. I think I slammed down a drink at Igors at 3 am while waving Flannery or Walker or Eudora in the air and swore that Franzen and Eggers were my metaphysical enemies and one day I would read Wittgenstein deeply enough to make seemingly-profound arguments about nonsense culture-consumers like "Stop making literature a habit of stylistic consumption and read something and decide if it's true." I remain too lazy, but still, I think we should read literature with an idea of the Good, and how to pursue it. My always-reforming vision has been consistent about thinking of this not as a charming memoir but as a lazy memoir without real love or value. I wish I could see what so many think they do, but it remains mirror-playing to me.. Maybe most of this is late-night fighting-Tara b.s., but I still think my absurd perspective is still more concerned about what is good and lovely and true than the steady narcissism of AHWOSG.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 63) (63 new)

message 1: by Amy (last edited Mar 30, 2008 08:39AM) (new)

Amy whoa.

i have never read this book, but i heard about it when the backlash to it was strong in the literary world. backlash that does echo some of your points. hence why i never read it. but my experimental forms prof this semester said that it really is this fun, experimental, post-modern read that is not only well crafted but does say something honest so a few weeks ago i decided that i should give it a chance and put it on my "to read" list. but who knows now?? maybe i'll put it at the very bottom...


Lauren I strongly agree with you. I hated this book. I think it should be burned.

message 3: by Evan (new)

Evan I also strongly agree with you. I've never actually felt ANGRY while reading a book - genuine anger towards the author, or towards the words written on the page itself. My feelings of anger over this book have even managed prevent me from even reading the various anthologies and publications that Eggers has been a part of, which is unfortunate, considering that the stories there probably far outweigh any of the garbage that he himself has produced.

message 4: by Jnbremer (new)

Jnbremer I disagree strongly with this review actually, but I have a big problem with your critique of this book: his ego is just. another. joke. Seriously. Eggers is a funny dude and smart as hell. He drops clues that it's a joke, by the by, and anyone with a little knowledge of psycho/literary analysis could figure that out. He'll be egotistic on one page and out of his mind with panic on another. He's obviously self-conscious and disguises that with arrogance. That's something people do. AHWOSG is really more of a study in human nature disguised with highly stylized prose, po-mo sensibilities, and humor.
As for your attacks on style vs. substance, people say the same things about like, Updike, so that doesn't really hold a lot of water with me. Eggers actually discusses this in the forward of David Wallace's Infinite Jest. And speaking of pretentiousness, you list War & Peace as one of your favorite books. Ok? What's not pretentious about that? Eggers is infinitely more pedestrian than War & Peace. Just saying.

Also, just so you know, David Wallace's last name isn't Foster Wallace. Just saying.

Annie Sheesh, it's just her opinion. You can't force someone to like something. You could say that anyone's 'shortcomings' as a writer are actually intentional and a sign of genius. Personally, if I didn't know that tons of people find this book touching, smart, moving, and really funny, I would assume that everyone who likes Dave Eggers is friends with him, and just trying to be nice.

message 6: by Leftbanker (new)

Leftbanker What I resent about this book was that it was hailed as if it were…what the title says. I only give one star to books that were monster successes and just weren’t that good. I won’t mention any here but Under the Tuscan Sun comes to mind. I think this guy showed his true colors in his follow up works which really blew.

Why do we all have to read the same damn book? They ram these books down our collective throats instead of trying to market a wider variety of literature. I guess the business types like to have all of their eggs in one basket instead of letting readers make more in the way of personal choices.

Mark Kammel This could be possibly the most vague review ever. I hated "those" techniques he used, "it" was all terrible.

message 8: by Ryan (new)

Ryan bubbles can be nice

message 9: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Lauren wrote: "I strongly agree with you. I hated this book. I think it should be burned."

WHOA. "Should be burned"?

Hate any books you want, write scathing reviews of them, but think twice before you suggest burning a book.

I mean, would you really want to emulate the people who've historically burned books?


message 10: by Leah (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leah Meyer Unfortunately, it seems that no one is allowed to have an opinion. People get mad when you don't conform to their ways-it angers them. You can't speak w/o having it held against you...Aren't places like this here to share what others feel and see? Or is it a place to judge and argue?

message 11: by Steve (new)

Steve I pretty well felt the same as Tara about this book. Fortunately I picked it up in the bargain bin for a few bucks so didn't feel like it was wasted money when the book went unfinished and got pitched in the trash. Was surprised that this book is/was being held up as some sort of quality literary piece. But then again, clever people can find a lot of meaning in random noise.

message 12: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Good on you for sticking to your guns and being honest about what you think of this stinker. Don't let anyone bully you into liking poop.

Griffbluedog I felt very much like you about this book. The bubbles analogy captures precisely my reaction. I did admire some of his structure, and sometimes I enjoyed his self-deprecating wit; I suspect he's someone I'd enjoy hanging out with. But the book? Very nearly worthless.

Sibylle Thanks for this well written review - completely agree with you.

message 15: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill O'Connell Your use of the words "metaphorical dick" make me think you just wrote this review to get attention.

Gabriellaaanais I completely agree with this review. I had such high expectations for this book, and i absolutely hated it. I thought it was one of the worst things i've ever read, and i feel like it gets too much positive hype.

Ashley I disagree with your review, almost entirely. However, I really enjoyed reading it. I worked in publishing for many years and sometimes we editors wondered why people didn't like a book. Rarely did anyone speak out with such passion. I respect your opinion, even if I disagree with it, and hope you keep posting your reviews.

message 18: by Tiah (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tiah Keever Lauren wrote: "I strongly agree with you. I hated this book. I think it should be burned."

book burning is right up there with...well burning things which other than campfires is extremely low on my list. even books i don't like i wouldn't suggest burning. respec. booyakashah.

message 19: by Tiah (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tiah Keever Leah wrote: "Unfortunately, it seems that no one is allowed to have an opinion. People get mad when you don't conform to their ways-it angers them. You can't speak w/o having it held against you...Aren't places..."

if its an open forum obviously its a place "to judge and argue". j/k. kind of. on the one hand people seem to be upset when people get upset, on the other hand they think when spewing forth their opinion people won't naturally want to do the same. why? that's what opinions are all about. you state yours and other people state theirs.

for the record i love this book, and i can't imagine how anyone can say its worthless. have you any younger siblings? have you ever thought what would happen if your parents died and you were left to raise your siblings? well if you haven't i'd think this book would make you wonder, and if you do then its weird that you would think the story to be so completely awful.
in any case yes, everyone is entitled to their say, but its odd to me that you'd even bother to write how much you hate a book. why not spend the energy on writing about a book you liked?

message 20: by Tyrone (new)

Tyrone Swanson Went through the same thing with White Teeth, eventually on page 300 or so, after the 200th pointless digression, I skipped to the back, read the last line, and called it good. Modern literature is in a bad way.

message 21: by Molly (new) - rated it 1 star

Molly I think my boyfriend and I both lost lifelong friends last night for speaking up at book club and saying we didn't like this book. For all of the reasons you mention and then some. Eggers throws the deaths of his parents in our faces, so that not liking the book turns us, the readers, into horrible people- don't we know that his life is so hard?? Or he throws all of this irony at us, so that not liking the book is just because us, the readers, 'don't get it.' Maybe we just don't like it because it sucks. Right on, keep it real and say what you think.

Michelle My biggest problem with this review: "I was disgusted with the title when I first heard of it, and though I can see there's some self-ridicule going on, I can also see that no, there's not, and he's really pretty satisfied with himself."

No author will ever entitle their work something like A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius without it being a complete joke. There is no exception to this rule. If an author actually thinks his work is heartbreaking, staggering, and/or genius, he won't ever mention it, in hopes of seeming genuine. The fact that Eggers gave his book this title clearly states the joke. And clearly forewarns the reader that there's going to be a lot of exaggeration and self ridicule in this book.

Maybe I'm just stating the obvious, here. But I know a lot of people that refused to read the book because of its title, or hated it partly because of the title, when the title is what explains the entire tone of the book. To think that Eggers was at all serious in what he chose to title this book is just... silly, I guess, to keep things tame.

message 23: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Buckley PREACH.

Michelle Michelle wrote: "My biggest problem with this review: "I was disgusted with the title when I first heard of it, and though I can see there's some self-ridicule going on, I can also see that no, there's not, and he'..."


Mary Kay Whew. I thought I was the ONLY one that felt that way; relieved to see I'm not.

message 26: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Nice review! Its strange but I have only met one girl who enjoys Eggers... You are not special!

Michelle Mike wrote: "Nice review! Its strange but I have only met one girl who enjoys Eggers... You are not special!"

Meet girl #2!

message 28: by Robert (new)

Robert "All style and no substance" sums up why I am very wary of the "modern literary" genre.

message 29: by Alan (new)

Alan I didn't like it either. It's been years since I read the book, but I remember saying, "Self-serving piece of crap" or words to that effect when I finished the book. I've often said that I should have a Goodreads shelf entitled "It Must be Me, Because Everyone Else Loved It".

message 30: by Tara (new) - rated it 1 star

Tara Mike wrote: "Nice review! Its strange but I have only met one girl who enjoys Eggers... You are not special!"

Did I say I was? Weirdly passive-aggressive comment, buddy.

message 31: by Tara (new) - rated it 1 star

Tara Also, Alan, that is why we are goodreads friends.

message 32: by Sasha (new) - rated it 1 star

Sasha I also strongly, STRONGLY agree with you. I has heard so much about how great this book was back around when I was on college or thereabouts. I was so. Damn. Angry by the time I finished the book. I thought it was boring, poorly written, and the author was arrogant. This book is really one of the only books I can say that I was truly enraged to have wasted my time with. I think the confusing part was what rave reviews it received. I hadn't thought much about it again until recently, when a friend asked if I'd read his more recent book, Zeitun, and I just lost it. Told her I would never as long as I lived give this author another chance - she ended up buying the book and tossing it after three chapters.

Griffbluedog When a book gets press as positive as this one did, and I spend my time slogging through it, only to feel I had wasted my time, I think it's a perfectly valid thing to write a negative review. I personally didn't think the story he told was bad, just that he told it poorly. It was the literary equivalent of the kind of movie you occasionally see, e.g. "Suture," that has all these neat bells and whistles but isn't compelling in the least.

Carmen You hit the nail on the head. I feel like I wasted good reading time with this book.

message 35: by SivanNava (new)


message 36: by Carla (new)

Carla Kaiser Ha! Awesome review. I've never read any Dave Eggers, and don't intend to. Your review reminds me of how I feel about Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. She and Dave Eggers should go ride off into the sunset together.

message 37: by James (new)

James Crowl i remember people saying similar things about jack kerouac's "on the road"...

message 38: by Ninnnnny (new) - added it

Ninnnnny Love you~

message 39: by Josh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Josh Eure I could tell this review was written by a teenager pretty early on. I'm not arguing on behalf of Eggers here, but this review is a childish rant. Come back in five years or so.

message 40: by Tara (new) - rated it 1 star

Tara But Josh, I don't want to sound like or be an important reviewer who strives to be taken seriously! I wanted to bullshit four years ago about a pretty surface with zero substance. And I did! And I still feel the same :)

message 41: by Angie (new) - rated it 1 star

Angie LOL! Gotta love hipsters. They're so "post-cool".

message 42: by Tara (new) - rated it 1 star

Tara Angie wrote: "LOL! Gotta love hipsters. They're so "post-cool"."
LMFAO gurl i don't even know what u mean :)

Jason Bickford Wow. You mad bro? You missed the whole bit about struggling to identify and redefine family while physically searching for a home for it? You missed the love? You're a sad girl. Mean too.

message 44: by Tara (new) - rated it 1 star

Tara Jason, what I missed is the value of this particular struggle. Flight from ideal to ideal (never encountered truly, only as images of the lifestyle the bourgeois of Imperial America are entitled to) is, again, not what I'd describe as good literature. Eggers is interested in Eggers. His family is interesting so far as it is an extension of his own personality development. It's one of the things that bothered me most about the book, which I don't think I 'missed' - love as possession, family as another 'interesting characteristic'. Eggers didn't invent it. But all his other characters are peripheral (oddly, his shallowness made his character the most peripheral of all, at least to me) to the blossoming of his own precious, precious flower. There are writers whose characters and love and families are truly real - these weren't. If my frustration with his shadow-extensions means I deserve to be called mean, or worse, 'bro', I don't mind. I'll keep my good books close, and not worry about fashion's fleeting preening.

Timothy Foley I know I'm a bit late to the party... But I just threw this book down in disgust. It is rare for me to not finish a book once I being(even an awful one), but I just can't waste anymore of my life on this. Your review is spot-on.

message 46: by Toni (new) - rated it 5 stars

Toni Wendel Ok.. I posted a comment on this review forever ago and took it back deciding not to get involved because apparently I struck some sensitivity with my reply. But i have to say this: all the people who are whining that Eggers is "arrogant"... you completely missed the point of the book and obviously have little knowledge of mental illness. Eggers is manic depressive. If you couldn't pick that up.. you should definitely put down the book. You're not talking about personally traits you're talking about symptoms of a disease. For someone living as a manic depressive or has any other mental disorder this book is extremely important. If you missed the mark then I feel bad for you, but your ignorance is what makes me feel the worst. Also I find it funny I had a thorough talk with the reviewer about these themes... and yet it seems like the conversation completely flew over her head. Honestly... Please keep disliking the book. You don't deserve to understand it. I don't think your tiny, little, minds could take it.

message 47: by Patti (new)

Patti Charron This book made me want to punch Dave Eggers in the face. He is a poser. His only skill is to convince others that he is a genius and then have them fall in line behind him. Your review is dead on. Thank you for saying what I have been thinking all along.

Becca that criticism wasn't good

message 49: by Susan (new) - rated it 1 star

Susan So glad I found this review.. Its sums up my thoughts perfectly. I became so disenchanted and then disgusted, that I refused to finish it. There it still sits, on my bookshelf, waiting for the day I forget what a self important twit DE came off as. Then again, that may never happen.

Thomas Paul Nice review. I feel about the same and my review, also written many years ago, reflect a similar feeling although I am more self deprecating. In other words, this book is so cool that it must be my fault that I don't like it. ;)

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