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


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Don't bear with it.

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trivialchemy Reading this was quite possibly the largest single waste of time yet in my life. Eggers is as self-absorbed as you might imagine him to be, and the fact that it's "ironic" doesn't make it bearable or amusing.


Shannon This seems like your personal review.. why did you find it necessary to create a thread for it rather than posting it as your review?


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I agree, and also everything he publishes is boring too. What a hipster.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

I agree with Isaiah. This book was a complete waste of time. Is it possible that it is a generational thing. Which saying that, a generational thing, strikes me as odd, since I'm not that old. It seems to me, in my experience, that most of what passes for comedy, irony, etc. today just is lost on me.


Gary Eddy Found it to be more like a sad work of staggering cleverness. The fiction/autobio/4th-wall down stuff is very much of its moment )and ours as the fictionalized autobiography is now with us to stay). So, it's successful, it's even valuable, but too witty by half.


Pablo Hernandez Eggers is still one of the best current American writers. Both 'What Is the What' and 'Zeitoun' are brilliant works.


Katie Not to mention he wrote The Wild Things. He's doing something right. One of his books is a movie. I'm not the biggest fan in the entire world but I do enjoy his work. I think if you don't understand the concept or you just can't relate, then maybe you are just reading the wrong genre of books. Certain things are an acquired taste.


Janet I rather enjoyed this book, and I am definitely not of Eggers's generation. It's been 2 years since I read it, but I do remember how I kept pulling for the protagonist to make it through all the bull@^@$ he had to go through just to grow up. I had it pretty easy. Anyway, it's really not that bad.


Julia Mukuddem I agree with Janet. I'm also not of Eggers's generation. It was an entertaining book - the swearing was a little bit over the top I would say.


message 10: by Ken (new) - rated it 1 star

Ken That books like this qualify as social fiction simply because some silver-spooner's life deviated from The Plan is a scandal. As for Eggers' Nobel nomination, it's nice to see the Nobel committee doing charity. Never can have enough hyper-educated, maudlin male authors.


Frank Yes, well, that's like, your opinion, man.


message 12: by Ken (new) - rated it 1 star

Ken An insightful observation. Let's hear yours--what did you like about it?


Frank I thought it was a pretty interesting story. And I liked his style of writing; when his irony lingers on the border of being too much; the way he reflects upon and even criticizes his story while telling it; his ability to suck me in completely. I also love how in the preface he advises you to stop reading after page 123. I guess I recognize myself somewhat in his attitude.

No book is for everyone, and I'm not saying you should read or like the book. I do however think that you shouldn't actively discourage people from reading a book just because you don't like it. So my initial reply wasn't aimed at you, but at the person who started this thread (I admit, it wasn't too clear I wasn't replying to you). As for the Nobel prize issue: I agree with you there, but then I think the Nobel prize has become somewhat of a joke.


Chris Interesting discussion. My book club read this a number of years ago and we still think of it has the worst book we've ever selected. It really turned me off reading anything else by Eggers, although I've read many rave reviews of What Is the What and Zeitoun. Maybe I should give them a shot.


message 15: by Ken (new) - rated it 1 star

Ken There's a lesson to be learned from this book, and it's not just to avoid future books by Eggars. That lesson is that that critics, by and large, can't see the king's clothing for what it is. The NYT exalted this book, as did the Nobel committee, with their nomination, and various other awards committees and critics. Think for yourself, people! The critics don't know any more than we do; only difference is they have an economic interest in what they say.


Ajeng Everyone can be quite personal with Eggers' books. Either you like it or you don't.

And I find it interesting that some of you mentioned about (not) being from his generation. He wrote this when he was 27 (and by which time MTV had been a constant companion for every growing teenager), I was pleasantly surprised to hear a voice that I thought was "most similar" to my own. And... I thought the swearing was icing on the cake, too funny!


message 17: by Ken (new) - rated it 1 star

Ken Ajeng wrote: "Everyone can be quite personal with Eggers' books. Either you like it or you don't.

And I find it interesting that some of you mentioned about (not) being from his generation. He wrote this whe..."


What did you like about it specifically, beside the swearing and its similarity in voice?


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

eric lister i thought the author's self-absorbed voice and certainty about the unspoken thought processes of others was, in addition to amusing and often hilarious, refreshingly honest and relatable in a memoir. His manic highs did not come across to me as boastful, but rather true to how a moment is experienced rather than an insightful look at events colored by hindsight. I think that the insight offered by time guides the overall narrative, while the scenes taken individually give us a scars-and-all look into the experiences of a traumatized individual trying to keep it together after being swiftly flung from adult adolescence into a "real" adulthood.


message 19: by Dawn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dawn Grimes I found this book to be insufferable...and I did not bear with it...(so perhaps I am not fully qualified to weigh in as I only managed to get about 3/4 through) I did however find "You Shall Know Our Velocity" to be surprisingly delightful. The narrative was engaging and the characters were endearing. I would have missed a good book, had it not been the only one available to me on a day when I wanted something light to read at the pool. I had extremely low expectations and was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining how I found it to be.


Cameron Don't bear with it? This book was shortlisted for the Pulitzer for good reason. Self absorbed? It's a memoir for crying out loud. Egger's is an immensely talented writer. Don't let the big words scare you.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Ken wrote: "Think for yourself, people! The critics don't know any more than we do; only difference is they have an economic interest in what they say."

I hope you don't actually believe this. I'm sure you won't return to the thread and defend this, but I hope you do.

Here's a problem I have with this statement. This implies that taste is totally subjective and therefore there can be no authorities. If I made this statement about something else, say interior design or culinary pursuits, you would think me crazy. But when people say this about books ("oh well we all have our opinions") this is somehow acceptable.

Which it is not.

Regarding this book, I didn't think it a waste of time, but I didn't enjoy it. The self-consciousness of the narrative was a little too much for me. I can't handle anything so aggressively self-aware. It reminded me of a child constantly tugging my sleeve asking me to "look at this look at this look at this". However, some of its tricks are clever.


message 22: by Luke (new) - rated it 5 stars

Luke Evans It's been 7 years since I read this book, but I loved it at the time. I found it funny, poignant, and, well, everything the title said it would be.

I understand why some would say it's pretentious, but to me, he seems to be using humor to offset the pain and hardship. A distraction of sorts. It's a memoir at heart--the cleverness prevents it from sliding into woe-is-me melodrama.

If it's not for you, that's fine. I don't get the apparent mentality of "I gotta trash this book publicly to save other poor saps, because obviously I have infallible insight here!"


message 23: by Janis (new) - rated it 1 star

Janis Mills Opened the book and could not get past the first chapter. Not a good book.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Janis wrote: "Opened the book and could not get past the first chapter. Not a good book."

But you rated it one star, implying you read it? If you didn't finish it, how can you rate it?


message 25: by eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

eric lister macgregor wrote: "Janis wrote: "Opened the book and could not get past the first chapter. Not a good book."

But you rated it one star, implying you read it? If you didn't finish it, how can you rate it?"



right? i didn't make it very deep into House of Leaves. Didn't mean it was a bad book, just that i was a little too dumb to work though it.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

eric wrote: "Didn't mean it was a bad book, just that i was a little too dumb to work though it. "

Don't sell yourself short. House of Leaves isn't nearly as smart as it thinks it is. Danielewski practically bends over backwards trying to show how clever he is, but has meager talent to impress.


message 27: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David I found it unbearably narcissistic, smug, pretentious. This reminded me that there is both a "me" and an "i" in memoir.


message 28: by eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

eric lister macgregor wrote: "Danielewski practically bends over backwards trying to show how clever he is, but has meager talent to impress"

unconvinced. i think ambitious bookmaking is important and exciting... just cracked Tree of Codes :)


Terry Pearce What I find very interesting, if a little saddening, is the anger directed at certain modern authors. Check out review pages for any book by Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace, Paul Auster... there's real vitriol there, together with plenty of disdain. More than any other type of work (with the possible exception of the Stephanie Meyers/Dan Brown type), there's an outrage. How dare this author be feted? How dare other people like this work?

It baffles me. What is taste for? If you don't understand the work, or even if you don't believe that there's anything to understand, why pour passion into your dismissal of it. Isn't it possible that Eggers, Foster Wallace, et al, have a point to make, and make it well *for some readers*, whilst not being right for you? Why do they have to be naked Emperors? Can they not be Emperors whose fashion sense just doesn't gel with yours?

Note that I'm not saying don't criticise them. Absolutely, dislike them. Absolutely, tell us what it is about their thrust or their manner that turns you off. But acknowledge that that's your opinion, and move on.

One of the most common ways I see this type of criticism levelled is 'x isn't as smart as he thinks he is'. I wonder if the bad feeling is a defence mechanism... if maybe people who don't connect with this kind of writing think that, because of its intellectual links, they'll be seen as stupid -- by themselves? others? But I'd think they were much smarter than they think they are, if they acknowledged the role of taste in all this and stopped trying to convince those of us who love Foster Wallace, Eggers and others like them that there's some objective criteria by which such writers are frauds or narcissists or elitists. That attitude reminds me less of The Emperor's New Clothes and more of the Aesop's fable about the Fox without a tail who spent all his energies trying to convince the other foxes that tail-less life was superior, and that they should all cut theirs off too, rather than just getting on with a life of differences.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

eric wrote: "unconvinced. i think ambitious bookmaking is important and excitin..."

You remain unconvinced that I don't think you're too dumb to understand House of Leaves? You say you might too dumb to get it, but that ambitious "bookmaking" (whatever that is) is important and exciting? I'm all for mercurial opinions, but this is kind of strange. Do you mind unpacking this for us?


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

Terry wrote: "One of the most common ways I see this type of criticism levelled is 'x isn't as smart as he thinks he is'. "

Its common usage doesn't invalidate the criticism. Sometimes authors try to impress with loquacious prose, overly complicated structure and imagery too "on the nose". Sometimes this is a smokescreen to hide a dearth of thematic or emotional depth.

But I agree with some of your points. Ambitious authors tend to get eviscerated on Goodreads for being "pretentious" which is a sad and lazy criticism.


message 32: by Terry (last edited Jun 05, 2012 10:11AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Terry Pearce See now, something along lines (explicitly or implicitly) of 'x tries to impress with loquacious prose, overly complicated structure and imagery too "on the nose". This seems to me a smokescreen to hide a dearth of thematic or emotional depth' seems like more balanced, reasoned criticism. Especially if this was developed to make sure that the criticism acknowledged its own subjectivity and refrained from being overly pejorative.

'X isn't as smart as he thinks he is' crits often seem to carry a subtext (or sometimes, along with other things said, somewhat less 'sub') that's somewhat different to this ideal, which can seem quite personal, defensive, and often seem to lay exclusive claim to objective reality.

By the way, as far as this book goes, I adored the first quarter or so. Once the car started flying, I enjoyed the rest somewhat less. But the guy can write, for sure.


message 33: by Scott (last edited Jun 19, 2012 08:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Scott Cooper Criticism similar to what you're outlining, or did I miss the point?


Terry Pearce ?


Scott Cooper This was in reference to message 31 by Macgregor.


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Scott wrote: "This was in reference to message 31 by Macgregor."

I still don't understand your question.


Matthew macgregor wrote:


Ambitious authors tend to get eviscerated on Goodreads for being "pretentious" which is a sad and lazy criticism.


I agree, the more so because we don't really have a definition of what pretentious means in writing. Some authors, like Eggers, attempt to push the boundaries of writing and language. Sometimes it works, other times it fails, but they shouldn't be eviscerated merely for trying something new.

That said, this is my least favorite of Eggers' works. I've tried to read it twice and could not. However, I greatly enjoyed "what is the what" and I love the McSweeney's imprint, so I don't judge him merely on one of his works.



message 38: by eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

eric lister no, dude

i remain unconvinced that "Danielewski practically bends over backwards trying to show how clever he is, but has meager talent to impress" (which is why i pulled that quote from your comment and put it at the top of my comment)

i guess i would be happy to exchange the term "ambitious bookmaking" for "use of non-traditional layout and design"

i think the book as physical work of art makes perfect sense particularly as bookmaking becomes a more and more obsolete practice, at least in the wealthy parts of the world i choose to hang out in


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

eric wrote: "i remain unconvinced"

Well fair enough. I presented no evidence to support my assertion. Typographical layout that serves to heighten or lessen tension in the reader is not new to Danielewski. The Sesame Street book, "The Monster at the End of this Book" actually serves to keep me more interested than Danielewski's "hey look guys, I'm making an obvious and repetitive reference to a Minotaur". Danielewski tells rather than shows, and his use of non-standard design is a tool of false depth. Just because Danielewski can make connections between different mythologies doesn't mean he can write a good story.


Vonaire Ken wrote: "That books like this qualify as social fiction simply because some silver-spooner's life deviated from The Plan is a scandal. As for Eggers' Nobel nomination, it's nice to see the Nobel committee d..."

I agree, 100%.


Terry Pearce I also don't understand the disdain for anyone from a relatively well-off background writing about their problems. There seems sometimes to be an 'ah diddums' subtext to people's response.

Saying somebody has no right to feel sad because there are people worse off is like saying somebody has no right to feel happy because there are people better off. It makes no sense to me, unless somebody really is saying 'my problems are more important than others'. I don't think Eggers ever implies that. His are just the ones he's qualified to talk about, and the ones that he lived through and felt personally.


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

Terry wrote: "Saying somebody has no right to feel sad because there are people worse off is like saying somebody has no right to feel happy because there are people better off. "

I agree completely. One person's perception of their problem doesn't invalidate the problem in relation to another person's issue.


message 43: by eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

eric lister thank you, i will be sure to no longer enjoy it

:)


Steve Pablo wrote: "Eggers is still one of the best current American writers. Both 'What Is the What' and 'Zeitoun' are brilliant works."

Agreed. I loved both those books.


Steve Janis wrote: "Opened the book and could not get past the first chapter. Not a good book."

Well at least you gave it a chance before you passed judgement.


message 47: by Luke (new) - rated it 5 stars

Luke Evans Christamar wrote: "An Open Letter to Dave Eggers http://dailybrass.blogspot.com/2012/0..."

envy is funny!


Spencer I found it really hard to get through. A bad attempt to be a modern Holden Caulfield. Definitely not in league with Wallace, or some of his other po-po-mo contemporaries.


message 49: by Deke (new) - rated it 4 stars

Deke For anyone reading this who doesn't have an opinion yet, my 2 cents: I disagree with Spenser, in that I very much didn't like Catcher in the Rye but did enjoy Heartbreaking Work. Perhaps it's my temporal and geographic proximity to Eggers (I live in SF, went to the same high school as his wife), and perhaps it's the fact that it's a memoir as opposed to a novel. I found Holden to be whiny/entitled/non-productive, but not Eggers, who made some difficult and surprising life choices, knocking the book out of the category "something I've basically already read before."


Steve Deke wrote: "For anyone reading this who doesn't have an opinion yet, my 2 cents: I disagree with Spenser, in that I very much didn't like Catcher in the Rye but did enjoy Heartbreaking Work. Perhaps it's my te..."

Agreed. I have enjoyed everything I have read of Eggars.


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