A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Dave Eggers is a terrifically talented writer; don't hold his cleverness against him. What to make of a book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Based on a True Story? For starters, there's a good bit of staggering genius before you even get to the true story, including a preface, a list of "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book," and a 20-page ack...

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Title:A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Author:Dave Eggers
Rating:
ISBN:0375725784
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:437 pages

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Reviews

  • Jeff
    Aug 02, 2007

    Dave, Dave, Dave, Dave. What can I say? I can sort of remember picking up this book in a bookstore somewhere and reading the first few pages… now, not the first few pages of the story, but I’m talking about the copyright page. Freaking Dave Eggers is writing his novel starting with the copyright page? Wild man, wild man!

    So, I read it. I liked it. It was this nonstop stream of consciousness kind of thing, which I found a bit comforting, cause that’s how I think. I mean, of course that’s how I th

    Dave, Dave, Dave, Dave. What can I say? I can sort of remember picking up this book in a bookstore somewhere and reading the first few pages… now, not the first few pages of the story, but I’m talking about the copyright page. Freaking Dave Eggers is writing his novel starting with the copyright page? Wild man, wild man!

    So, I read it. I liked it. It was this nonstop stream of consciousness kind of thing, which I found a bit comforting, cause that’s how I think. I mean, of course that’s how I think, cause my mind will just sometimes ramble on and on and on about nothing in particular. It could be about donuts that my mind is thinking about, it could be about women. Maybe it’s about basketball. I miss Michael Jordan. 1992 was the year they first made the Dream Team for the U.S. Basketball Olympic team. Do you remember all 12 members? I do. Swear to God I’m not looking this up: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullins, Patrick Ewing, and the one college player Duke’s very own Christian Lattner (I don’t know how to spell his name… okay, I looked it up- it’s Laettner) And really what ever happened to that guy? How did he get on the dream team? One shot? He hit the winning shot in an NCAA basketball tournament. That’s it. That’s all he ever did. Shaq O’neill was waiting in the wings. Hell Isaiah Thomas could have been that last player, but apparently Michael Jordan didn’t want Isaiah on the team. Who knows if that rumor is true? Certainly not me.

    Anyway, a friend of mine read the book and she didn’t like it so much. Which almost made me question how I felt about the book, but then I thought, “No, stay with your belief system man! Don’t let someone else’s opinion sway you.” But that did get me to thinking if there were books that men preferred over women, and vice versa. I don’t mean sexist misogynistic type books, but I’m talking the writing style specifically. Is there a cadence to writing that men prefer? Is there a cadence that women prefer? Maybe someone should write a thesis about that. I know it’s not going to be me. I didn’t major in psychology, though looking back I wish I would have because there were so many cute girls in the psychology department.

    In conclusion, I enjoyed this book.

  • Clare
    Aug 07, 2007

    I disliked so very much about this book. The grating self-awareness, the oh-I'm-so-clever stream of consciousness asides, the indescribably tedious discussion of his magazine work. But the heart of the book, the story of Eggers and his young brother trying to be each other's whole family after the death of their parents, is genuinely sad and funny all at once, a difficult feat to accomplish. I wish he'd stuck to telling that story instead of trying so hard to make me think he's a staggering geni

    I disliked so very much about this book. The grating self-awareness, the oh-I'm-so-clever stream of consciousness asides, the indescribably tedious discussion of his magazine work. But the heart of the book, the story of Eggers and his young brother trying to be each other's whole family after the death of their parents, is genuinely sad and funny all at once, a difficult feat to accomplish. I wish he'd stuck to telling that story instead of trying so hard to make me think he's a staggering genius. This book made me realize how much I resent authors playing around with style before they've proved to me that they can just tell a sory in an effective way. I just want to say, "You're not too smart for traditional prose if, say, Jane Austen isn't. If you have something to say, say it. Impress me with your grasp of language, not your ability to posture."

  • Eric C
    Aug 08, 2007

    I was sick of Eggers'

    self-absorbed schtick after three pages of the preface. But, the cover read

    "pulitzer prize finalist" (among other superlatives), so I forged on. I'd made

    it to page 33 of the actual text (without laughing once) when I noticed Eggers'

    picture on the back cover. He reminded me of some people I'd met when I was

    working at a startup company during the early internet boom. They were so full

    of themselves with their free-wheeling style, their stock options, and their

    flat-front banana-

    I was sick of Eggers'

    self-absorbed schtick after three pages of the preface. But, the cover read

    "pulitzer prize finalist" (among other superlatives), so I forged on. I'd made

    it to page 33 of the actual text (without laughing once) when I noticed Eggers'

    picture on the back cover. He reminded me of some people I'd met when I was

    working at a startup company during the early internet boom. They were so full

    of themselves with their free-wheeling style, their stock options, and their

    flat-front banana-republic slacks. I felt they were full of shit, but it took

    me awhile to act on that feeling with confidence, and, thus, to stay in school. History

    ultimately proved me right. Therefore, I decided to learn from that history,

    and I threw this book in the trash.

  • Amanda
    Sep 06, 2007

    Clearly, this is a polarizing book. All I'll add is that the first time I read it, sometime in the middle of college, I had all of the negative reactions I've read here. It was sometimes funny, and sad and beautiful and all that, but mostly it was an autobiography by an asshole who was full of himself and I just didn't see why I should care, why I should keep reading.

    And then I read it again a few years later. And I don't really know what happened in between exactly. Maybe I became friends with

    Clearly, this is a polarizing book. All I'll add is that the first time I read it, sometime in the middle of college, I had all of the negative reactions I've read here. It was sometimes funny, and sad and beautiful and all that, but mostly it was an autobiography by an asshole who was full of himself and I just didn't see why I should care, why I should keep reading.

    And then I read it again a few years later. And I don't really know what happened in between exactly. Maybe I became friends with more assholes. Maybe I became more of an asshole myself. But I really loved it the second time. By the end, I was feeling the kind of exhilaration and momentum that I've only gotten from a handful of books ever.

    The other interesting thing is, I had this exact same series of reactions with Catcher in the Rye. Granted, I read that way too early. Like, 8th or 9th grade. But still, same reaction. So, maybe give it another try in a few years if you're so inclined.

    Also, I'm kind of okay with Dave Eggers being a bit of an egotistical asshole. Honestly, I think that he delivers enough that I don't really care what kind of guy he is. Yeah, the McSweeney's empire has probably been overhyped, and I won't go into that here, but I don't think that most of the attention he's gotten has been unjustified. At the very least, I think that he's trying to get more people to read and write. I'm not sure how successful he's been, but the goal is noble and rare and I approve.

  • Polly
    Sep 17, 2007

    look. it's cool to hate on dave eggers.

    it's *so cool* to be post-dave-eggers, and talk about how you didn't really like this book all that much, and it's even cooler to totally hate this book. it's like a coolness interview question. "did you like his book?" "yeah, I really did." "well, we can't be friends with *you*..."

    this is just like those hipsters who don't like justin timberlake. fuck you, hipsters. that new album is solid gold.

    I loved this book. I loved it, and I still love it. I wish to

    look. it's cool to hate on dave eggers.

    it's *so cool* to be post-dave-eggers, and talk about how you didn't really like this book all that much, and it's even cooler to totally hate this book. it's like a coolness interview question. "did you like his book?" "yeah, I really did." "well, we can't be friends with *you*..."

    this is just like those hipsters who don't like justin timberlake. fuck you, hipsters. that new album is solid gold.

    I loved this book. I loved it, and I still love it. I wish to god I had sent away for the optional large-scale flow chart. at one point in my life, I had several (*several*) copies of this book, and I gave them away and lent them out and now I have none. one of those copies was practically destroyed with the underlining and highlighting and dog-earing-of-pages I practiced on it. I wish to god I still had that one.

    and listen, cool kids. deep in the uncool heart of you, you loved it too. so step off.

  • Matt
    Jan 15, 2008

    as a huge douglas coupland fan, i thought i might enjoy 'a heartbreaking work...' i should've known better. i tried to read 'you shall know our velocity' last year and found it entirely unreadable. i gave up after 200 pages of nonsense. several friends raved about 'ahwoasg,' so i thought, 'ok, i'll give eggars another try.' again, i was horribly disappointed.

    the pros: yes, it's funny at times and very *honest* (though can we take eggars at his word? never trust an autobiography). i laughed out

    as a huge douglas coupland fan, i thought i might enjoy 'a heartbreaking work...' i should've known better. i tried to read 'you shall know our velocity' last year and found it entirely unreadable. i gave up after 200 pages of nonsense. several friends raved about 'ahwoasg,' so i thought, 'ok, i'll give eggars another try.' again, i was horribly disappointed.

    the pros: yes, it's funny at times and very *honest* (though can we take eggars at his word? never trust an autobiography). i laughed out loud several times while reading. many of eggars observations are insightful and funny. and yes, we do feel badly for dave and toph (at least in the beginning) and the the sibs after they lose their parents and head west. the 'here's a drawing of a stapler' was a good one, but the novel is short on humor and long on 'look at me and feel badly for me and my poor little brother.' in the end i just didn't care, nor did i have any reason TO care. narcissists don't necessarily make compelling protagonists.

    the cons: 500 pages of psychobabble, 'witticisms,' and 'biting obseravtions' don't necessarily make one a 'talented writer,' as so many have stated. get an editor, for crying out loud. the prose isn't anything write home about -- it's sloppy and unfocused (and what's the dropping the 'f-bomb' 20 times per page? get a thesaurus while you're at it). read eggars and then read steinbeck, eugenides, or ishiguro and you'll see the masters at work. this novel is so completely self-indulgent and bloated that i kept looking for a needle under my bed to pop the darn thing. eggars tries WAY too hard to show how 'clever' he is (by using his oh-so-ironic hipster slang), but he's not as clever as he wants to believe (unless he's playing us all -- if that's case, i would applaud him).

    in short, it has it's funny moments, but so did my grandma's funeral. i'm just glad i bought it used.

  • Karina
    Feb 08, 2008

    Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. I was reading this book and around page 237 (or was it 327? fuck), I figured it out- he's talking to ME. He wrote this book for me. Dave Eggers looked into the future and saw that I would want to read a self-referential, self-satisfying memoir. He knew that I would be trying to figure stuff, being in my twenties and all, and while not dealing with the enormity of losing both parents and having to rear a young sibling, I would have my own shit to work through. He. fucki

    Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. I was reading this book and around page 237 (or was it 327? fuck), I figured it out- he's talking to ME. He wrote this book for me. Dave Eggers looked into the future and saw that I would want to read a self-referential, self-satisfying memoir. He knew that I would be trying to figure stuff, being in my twenties and all, and while not dealing with the enormity of losing both parents and having to rear a young sibling, I would have my own shit to work through. He. fucking. knew. But why not just make it more obvious? Why not dedicate the book to me? Or send me a note, an email even:

    "Hey Karina- I know we've never met but I know that this book could really help you out. Love, Dave"

    Maybe "love" is too much.

    "Sincerely, and wishing you the best, Dave"

    Ok, even a modest "Sincerely" would have been adequate. But I think I know why he didn't do that. He wanted to mess with me. WANTED to. He wanted me have that revelation on my own. I would thank him, but honestly, I didn't like the book. No, I didn't HATE the book. If I had HATED the book, I would have given it one star, right? But for all the hype, it really was very frustrating. I even started skimming by the end. Hey, maybe you've even started skimming this review. That's ok. I understand. I just didn't need to hear any more of his selfish, whining, complaining, navel-gazing, cutseyness sometimes. It was too much. And by the end I was really kinda hating him. Which I think is something he would have been ok with, expecting even. It was too cute, too overdone, needed to be edited, cut in half. The stuff about his mother in the beginning was beautiful, because it felt sincere. ok, maybe that is his schtick- an insincere memoir, hiding behind a supposed stance of openness and sharing. well, screw that. That isn't why I read that kind of book. So bugger off Eggers and don't write any more books for me, ok?

  • Bryon
    Mar 21, 2008

    I had problems with Dave Eggers for a long time. Having never read a word he'd written, I immaturely thought I had every right to hate him. He was young, successful, and adored by critics. That was enough right there. When it first came out, I would see AHWOSG in the bookstore and grimace at it (more than once, I even gave it the evil eye). My loathing was out of sheer jealousy. I recognized it as such back then, but still carried on. It's hard to let go of things sometimes.

    OK. Fast forward thre

    I had problems with Dave Eggers for a long time. Having never read a word he'd written, I immaturely thought I had every right to hate him. He was young, successful, and adored by critics. That was enough right there. When it first came out, I would see AHWOSG in the bookstore and grimace at it (more than once, I even gave it the evil eye). My loathing was out of sheer jealousy. I recognized it as such back then, but still carried on. It's hard to let go of things sometimes.

    OK. Fast forward three or four years. I still have a lot of pent up animosity for those writers who are so far ahead of me. However, this fear, thinly cloaked as a juicy eccentricity has dissipated a great deal upon reading Eggers' triumphant, naked, brutally pure and dramatically veracious window into a life bereft of normalcy.

    What is normalcy? Nobody knows (and quite frankly, nobody should care), but I'll tell you what it's not: having to deal with the death of both your parents within mere months of each other. That just doesn't happen to people. On the rare and awful occassions when it does, the children involved are devastated. It happened to Eggers and his siblings. When his mother died, he was left to share custody of his younger brother Toph. Still just a child, Toph grew up under the sometimes bizarre, always concerned eye of his older brother Dave.

    The center of AHWOSG is truly the great and hilarious relationship Eggers has with Toph. To try to describe how they both grew up together in the strange and bumpy post-parental freedom-for-all (with strict rules of obtaining said freedom) would be detrimental to the experiences you can have in Eggers' world. So we won't venture further. Rest assured, there's a seal-tight bond there, one few can probably relate to.

    Smirking just on the borders of the author's fatherly/brotherly/friendly/loving/do-right-for-the-little-jerk attitude is the fully-aware-of-everything-that-is-and-is-not persona that he is constantly invoking and daring to take him just one step further... just to the brink... just to push him off. His emotions are bloody rare, like a T-Bone rippling with E. coli. His running, inner monologue and occasional tabooed thoughts are cut from his heart with a dull spork and served to the reader à la mode--as if the sweet, cold vanilla sub-thought could lighten the mood. It does. And his words never fail to render a heartbreaking, poetic, screaming justice for his soul.

    I ate it up. I wanted more. I swallowed my jealousy and loved it.

  • Tara
    Mar 29, 2008

    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 tit

    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.

  • Kelly
    Mar 29, 2009

    Before I picked up this book I had heard endless tales of how wonderfully smart and funny this book was, how terrific the writing was and how the originality would slap me in the face like a cool wind on a summer's day. They were wrong. I hated this book like The Cure hates happiness.

    I understand writer's have their own style, and that is what, in and of itself, separates them from all the others. But, seriously, we learn paragraph breaks for a reason. It gives the mind's eye a break, a breathe

    Before I picked up this book I had heard endless tales of how wonderfully smart and funny this book was, how terrific the writing was and how the originality would slap me in the face like a cool wind on a summer's day. They were wrong. I hated this book like The Cure hates happiness.

    I understand writer's have their own style, and that is what, in and of itself, separates them from all the others. But, seriously, we learn paragraph breaks for a reason. It gives the mind's eye a break, a breather. Eggers, a rebel in his own mind, discards such mannerisms.

    Aside from that debilitating hindrance, the book is THE example for egotism gone awry. Now, before you start, yes, I am aware that a memoir book is, essentially, an ego stroke. But the good writers, they have the ability to make you forget that it's merely self-indulgence, sweep you up in their lives...in their story. Rather than want to beg the author in so many ways as to warrant that 500 feet order to invite you over, Eggers is the kind of guy you would actually go out of your way to avoid.