A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius discussion


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Bear with it.

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William I enjoyed the book, but never found it depressing. It's certainly not light material, but it never got me down.


Susannah I *hated* this book more than any book I think I've ever read before. It's so cloying and painfully self-aware in the worst possible way.


message 3: by Gil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gil The first half is worth reading. When it starts to drag, and you will know it by its velocity, stop reading it. It doesn't get better.


Jolene This is one of the most memorable books I have ever read. Eggers has a way of weaving tragedy with humor. And yes... he's pompous and self absorbed, but that certainly doesn't take away from my love of his material!


message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I couldn't get through it. I tried, valiantly, and I am not one to give up readily. The first half, or maybe 2/3 was readable, but after that I just kept thinking "I don't care. Not a bit." So I quit.


message 6: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie I am currently reading this book and fell in love with it in the beginning, but I think I have reached the part where it drags. I will definitely finish it...I just started struggling with it during the real world interview. Sometimes he is so long winded and it's hard to keep going with him when he is so obviously stretching it as far as he possibly can. I love the story though, and don't really find it depressing. I hope it picks up again and I can find the charm that I fell in love with in the beginning!


Drew "It's so cloying and painfully self-aware in the worst possible way."

I can't imagine many things that by definition, are more self-aware than a memoir.

And as a memoir it's a thing of beauty. Passages that you'll want to read aloud to somebody.

Much better than his follow-up.


message 8: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Yes. And yes.


mercy god, i never got bored during reading this book. and i adored all the small additions, like in the cover page where he wanted people to send pictures of themselves with the books, etc...i mean, really. and i feel like i said this somewhere else already, but if you don't sob during the last 2 pages of the book, you are a robot.


message 10: by KATY (new) - rated it 5 stars

KATY I agree with mercy, I loved it. I laughed out loud many times, and I also cried at the end. I related to so many things in this book (no, my parents are not both dead, but I still related) and I think it helps to read it when you're young since it's written by a young person.


James David Morgan I'm currently two-thirds of my way through this book, and I find myself not enjoying the second half nearly as much. He does get painfully self-absorbed, and the self-aware-book-thing is not as alluring as the narrative first half. Thanks to this discussion, I now know I have an ending worth working for, so I will stick with it.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

This is the stuff LIFE is made of....tragic, funny, tragically funny.

Maybe I like it so much because I completely related to his way of story-telling and that world inside one's head.

If you're expecting a plot, there isn't one. This is life captured in its tragedy, excitement and banality. But it is a witty ride.


Kristin I agree that the second half as not as engaging as the first however Eggers himself acknowledges this and urges readers to stop reading at page 155 (or thereabout - I'm not currently holding my copy of the book) if they're only interested in the story of his becoming a "parent" to Toph. So, if the second half of the book is uninteresting to you put it down. Eggers will understand.


message 14: by Mike (last edited Jun 10, 2007 06:46PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mike I completely agree with Gil (comment 4). I'm not sure of the writing gets worse, the story gets less interesting or the whole idea behind the book just becomes tiresome but thats definitely true.


Melissa Whew, I'm glad I'm not the only one that fell into the rut of not being able to finish. So many people rave about this work and I wondered "did they finish it" because I found it so hard to. However, after reading these posts I'll try it again....just to see if perspective makes it palatable.


message 16: by Tom (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tom I'm glad to hear someone agrees with me - I was starting to think I was the only one in the world who found it painful to read.


Jeffrey What's with the ending? Help, please...


message 18: by Joey (new) - rated it 1 star

Joey I sadly wasn't able to "bear with it". I found it annoying and I was never looking forward to picking up the book, so I stopped. I may have given up too soon, but I doubt I'll ever try to find out if I was wrong. I do admit the content was interesting, but I just couldn`t keep going.


message 19: by Kristine (new)

Kristine I think it's hilarious that most people uniformly agree that the book fell apart in the middle.

I also loved the comment by Gil: "The first half is worth reading. When it starts to drag, and you will know it by its velocity, stop reading it. It doesn't get better."

You Shall Know Our Velocity by Eggers (is that the title?) was also... shall I say, a lot of words for no reason.

And talk about self-serving... that title is so grand.

Both titles are so grand. Why does he do that? To get our attention? Well, he got it, and most people on the thread weren't able to sustain the attention.

Of course, I say this, and I certainly have not produced a full-length book, so I don't want to complain too vociferously (I think that's the first time I've actually used that word in my own writing.)


Christy First, I'd like to point out that Eggers is a wonderful writer. I wholeheartedly recommend What is the What.

Otherwise, I'm in the Gil camp. Loved the concept of this experimental memoir, but was turned off by the internal dialogue when it became--as others pointed out--painfully self-conscious. Self-reflection turns into whiney self-absorption, a form of writing that is probably healing for the author, but not something I want to wade through ever again.




angeleen "and you will know it by its velocity", ha!


Gertie "Meh."

I wanted to like this book... I didn't exactly dislike it, but I was left feeling pretty ambivalent about it by the time I finished.

Eggars can form some pretty phrases- but I didn't really feel my emotions evoked (and I'm a fairly emotional person).

So despite the subjects, the real-life aspect, and the skill with words, I was left feeling a bit empty. by this one. I suppose it seemed just a bit too self-indulgent to me- as if he was writing for his own catharsis, and if someone else happened to enjoy it, so be it.

Obviously that worked out for many people- I just don't happen to be one of them.


Tonya I agree that the book pretty much unravels in the middle, but I thought the first half was hilarious. The title, in my mind, is meant to be funny, not accurate. In fact I read the whole book as self-depracating rather than grandiose. I definately laughed out loud enough to recommend it to certain friends.


message 24: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue I read it some time ago. It didn't leave much of an impression. I do recall being disappointed with it after so much hype.


Chris M. I agree with Gertie...I wanted to like it. I didn't dislike it. And the velocity comment by Gil is dead-on and priceless. I suppose the problem is that my own life is tragic and undeniable, painfully banal. I was hoping that some quirky little twist would reveal itself. Something that would make me go, "By God, there's hope yet." Not that I don't have hope, but my life is just as average as the author's. If you have to force yourself to read something make Anna Karenina or War and Peace. Talk about struggle. In this case, heed Gil's advice and move on.


Nerdleigh I have to jump in here. This is far and away the worst book I've ever read. Eggers, or at least the persona he presents for this book, is a tiresome, self-aggrandizing brat. Don't believe the hype.


message 27: by Gavin (last edited Dec 23, 2007 10:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gavin Stitt I personally found this one hard to put down. I loved the way Eggers portrayed all his self-centered struggles, and, although our lives vary greatly, I completed related to his out look. Maybe I'm just painfully self absorbed too, HA! The middle never seemed to fall apart as some pointed out. I personally found it engaging from cover to cover. I highly recommend it.


message 28: by Jean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jean Bond Gavin wrote: "I completed related to his out look. Maybe I'm just painfully self absorbed too, HA!"

Yep, that's where I'm at, too. I totally understood why, in the front matter, Eggers noted that you could stop reading around page 239 (?), because it stopped being a more linear story and started becoming something else.

In any case, I really related to his internal dialogue, probably because I'm too self-aware, too! I did skim over some of the Real World "interview," because it did drag somewhat.

I found this a very enjoyable read, however.


Rachel I found this book easy to read and enjoyable all the way through, in fact I read it in three days. Perhaps in order to truly enjoy it you need to take a step back from what you normally expect to see in a novel, and take a look at how he is commenting on the entire genre and the problem of postmodern life. That being, if all styles are valid and you have endless knowledge and information and opinions at your fingertips, how do you write a novel any more? How can it be anything but self-aware?

At first I thought the title was egotistical, then I thought it was sarcastic. But after finishing the book I think it is a clever swipe at the novel as a genre. Because isn't the goal of novelists to write heartbreaking works of staggering genius? Why not call a duck a duck?


Charlotte I've found it excruciatingly painful to read - because it hit so very close to home. I did lose a parent recently and some of the ways he describes what's that like are so on the money. I particularly love where he talks about lying to people about how his parents died, about feeling sorry for telling people his sad, tragic story because it's upsetting to others. That's exactly how it was for me.

A confession - I haven't finished it yet. I haven't finished it because I can't read too much at a time without getting overwhelmed with my own feelings. I get agitated. I have to put it down and read other, lighter novels. But then I return to it and get sucked in again.

He's done well as a writer to cause such a strong reaction - but it's sometimes hard (even just as a reader) to live too long in the land of death.


Jenn "Awww Yeaaahhh" I loved finding this thread and Jean's comment above because I *did* stop reading at page 239 which is right after the MTV interview. I just couldn't take any more (well it wasn't actually that dramatic), but a few chapters earlier I had already started to feel like I had to *force* myself to read further, and the MTV interview just clinched that feeling. I had had enough. I agree that the first part of the book was really good, but maybe that had to do with the fact I started reading this book shortly after I had lost my sister to cancer so I understood where he was coming from. I admired the way he dealt with his parents' deaths, and it actually comforted me as I dealt with my own grief. After a while though, I quickly tired of his whole painfully self-aware, self-conscious, and "precious" voice.

So, would I recommend it? For the first half, yes. For the rest? Who knows, I didn't make it that far.


Theresa I hope I don't offend anyone when I say that this is the worst book I have ever read. I guess I just didn't get it. I tried, I really, really did. I even finished the book. It was just one incredibly long and painful run-on sentence. For those who rave about it, you must have a perspective or something that I simply don't have. I was bored by the entire thing. Am I a bad person for not caring?


Michelle About this book my feeling is this: Enh. I didn't love it.... but I respect it.

Eggers presents a character (himself) overwrought with survival guilt, post traumatic stress disorder, and the fall out of being an adult child of an alcoholic. His overly self-absorbed personification is merely an attempt to mask his deepseeded and overwhelming insecurities... nanny nanny boo boo Eggers, I see you.

The stream of consciousness was way overdone -- the run on sentences... the way he interrupted himself. Constantly. But I understand the reason for the context. I, too, have lived through a truly traumatic experience and understand the anxiousness, depression, and broken thoughts that can cripple an untreated PTSD mind. Also, the desperation for someone -- anyone -- everyone -- to understand you and sympathize for you.

Hopefully Eggers has seen a therapist by now... if not, I can give him the name of mine.


message 34: by Drew (new) - rated it 1 star

Drew The title is transparently a device for deflecting criticism and a miniature reprisal of the whole book. It's too overblown to be taken seriously, and therefore must be ironic. Because it's obviously ironic, the author has criticized his own ambition before you got there, and so he is now immune to that criticism.

You say, "Man, you are full of yourself, huh?"
He says, "Heh, not really, but I understand it could come off that way, so here's an ironic title."
You're disarmed; he has criticized himself first in an act of possibly-sincere humility.

Unfortunately, this act invites the criticism it intends to deflect. I think a lot of us would have reacted differently to the book had it cut out all the bullshit and focused on telling its story honestly and less self-consciously. You can tell the truth about real events that happened to you without being self-conscious about the TELLING of them.


Rachelle This book is amazing. Although I can see how some might have a hard time getting in to this one, its well worth the time. The language is engaging. His style is funny and heart renching at the same time.

I picked this book up for the title, but became captivated by the story. There are sweet tender moments mixed in with early to mid 20's arrogance.

Stick with it. Its well worth it.


message 36: by Rebelluver (new)

Rebelluver May I suggest something?
I'm only on page 275, so it's not like I'm done yet,
but this is just simply a slow book.
I'm only a sophomore in high school, but I spend most of my time reading.
Regardless, I've been struggling through this book for over a month already, and am still enjoying it.
But if you find part of it boring don't just stop reading the book,
simply skip that part.
It's not like it'll have that much consequence to the remainder of the book...


message 37: by Melissa (new) - added it

Melissa Dee I loved the introduction to this book, especially the drawing of the stapler. And while, overall, it's gone fairly steadily downhill, there are still the occasional glimpses that keep me going.

No. Sorry. Kept me going. It's on hold. Indefinitely. Although I do intend to return to it when I get my mental stamina back.

I did like the stapler though.


Julia Mukuddem Melissa wrote: "I loved the introduction to this book, especially the drawing of the stapler. And while, overall, it's gone fairly steadily downhill, there are still the occasional glimpses that keep me going.

N..."


Ha-ha - I like your review ... :)


Ajeng I love the part about sliding on the floor of the house!

And the beach mug story, brilliant!


message 40: by eric (last edited Jul 24, 2011 08:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

eric lister Drew wrote: "Much better than his follow-up."

i think that speaks to his attempt to force a similar experience by going on a trip around the world and then framing it again around family tragedy. I read it when it first came out, but later publications of the work included a chapter in which his travel companion picked apart the narrative from within the book, pointing out 'fabrications' and exaggerations the narrator has included in the text. These insights made the whole story (which i enjoyed in its intital iteration) even richer.

I saw a theatrical version of the story that he co-wrote which wove even more nay-saying of the narrator's honesty throughout the entire story.

it may have suffered for being published a little early, but by the theatrical version, i think he had managed to flesh out the story into something nearly/as rich and rewarding as his first memoir




message 41: by eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

eric lister i find it hard to believe that so many people who spend their time publishing their experience of a book on the internet found eggers' level of self-absorption unrelatable


message 42: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John I would put this among the top ten books of the 21st century so far - a masterpiece. I'm a little surprised that the term Postmodernism hasn't come up in this discussion. HWoSG is in its way a postmodernist manifesto, like much of David Foster Wallace's work, and that of others.


Kerem Mermutlu I would agree, this is a masterpiece, and it's very post modern but not in a gimmicky 'look how clever i am' way. More to do with telling a story and using words and sentences in a completely beautiful way. I've read some of his other stuff, and he is an excellent writer, but i think nothing compares with the feeling i got from reading this book. Please, read it!


Rebekka So far what the most people on here criticise is what i like best about this book! Self reflection IS self absorbtion, thats not negative, that is what the book is about, Yes its a little cloying and self obsessed however its not pretending to be otherwise (Hence the title!) It is celebrating its own ego. I love the fact that at the end of it you feel like you know him better then you know your self, I can presict how he would react to any situation, Its a fascinating insight into the workings of the mind of a self focussed human being! I have read every work of this man, do i want to be his friend or hang out with him?, No, he sounds like a complete arse, but i am very happy i can read all about it from afar!


Ellen Keim One of my all-time favorite books.


Pieshine Gil wrote: "The first half is worth reading. When it starts to drag, and you will know it by its velocity, stop reading it. It doesn't get better."

I have to agree w/ you. The part about his job was uninteresting and his attempts at raising his brother were depressing.


message 47: by Dawn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dawn Grimes I felt like I had a sense for what Eggers was trying to do...but I couldn't get past what felt like an extreme case of myopia. If you like his style and enjoy a good memoir, I highly recommend you look for a book that will be out in this spring "By the Iowa Sea" I had the privilege of reading an advance copy and for this genre - it is absolutely brilliant. I love how this thread started in 2007.


Agrimorfee Any part of it not involving his little brother Toph (who now is a journalist!) and his family is really quite boring.


Borbality Wow, loving this thread. Just finished the book and agree with the haters. It's a bunch of overly witty, self-aware-but-self-deprecating-so-that's-supposed-to--make-it-OK ego stroke.

Very surprised people think it's genius or amazing. I mean, I don't hate it, and I respect Eggers as a talented writer, but I don't like this book and what he's trying to do with it. Also maybe I'm just not into his overly witty attempts at humor. Didn't laugh once!

I had a tough time with this one for various reasons, but not because I was overcome with grief for him or anything. My mom died of cancer when I was 23 and my dad three years later of cirrhosis, and I'm not buying into the pity party. The problem is Eggers thinks he's so smart, tells everyone he thinks he's so smart, and then tries to trick everyone into thinking his story is so great, and then admits to trying to trick everyone into thinking his story is so great.

I'M OVER IT!


Scott Cooper I'll throw my hat in with the haters. Just a little too self absorbed for me. We expect writers to be intelligent, so it isn't a problem of flaunting his skills, I just find him to be arrogant and, for the most part, unlikeable.


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