“THIS WAS UNCALLED FOR.” – First page of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
First, a few things about Dave Eggers. He founded the esteemed McSweeney’s publishing house based in San Francisco, home to a quarterly literary journal and daily-updated literature and humor website. Eggers is also the co-founder of 826 Valencia, a non-profit organization that helps children develop writing skills. But perhaps most importantly, he wrote the introduction to David Foster Wallace’s legendary work Infinite Jest. It’s a rare honor to add your name and opinion to one of those milestone works of fiction that shake the foundations of English major classrooms and coffeehouses around the world. In essence, Dave Eggers is a major cog in the literary engine of America.* He also never graduated college, both of his parents died of cancer within 32 days of each other, and his eight-year-old brother was left in his care just as Dave was legally able to drink. These are the heartbreaking moments chronicled in his genius and aptly named memoir.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is foremost a reading experience, and radically different from any autobiography – or any book, for that matter – you have ever read. Eggers begins his sarcastic and heartfelt pages with some “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book,” which essentially tell you to skip the entire book all together. He then follows with the Preface, which explains that parts of the work are lightly fictionalized (such as entire conversations, which is common practice for narrative autobiographies).
Then comes the lengthy and highly entertaining Acknowledgments, where Eggers actually acknowledges everything about the book and himself in every sense of the word. This includes how the author is just “like you” and “sometimes falls asleep when he is drunk having sex without condoms.” And how the book is “painfully, endlessly self-conscious” of being a memoir, and Eggers “either exalts or exploits his parents, depending on your point of view.” He even calculates what he was paid to write the book ($100,000) and subtracts his living and writerly expenses while writing the work, amounting to a substantially lower $39,567. He ends this portion of the book with a Kurt Vonnegut-esque illustration of a stapler.
*A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best and Most Influential Nonfiction Books.
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