A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis


Libraries are still the most cost efficient place to find a good book – and not just with a library card. It was a Saturday afternoon, at a Southern California library used book cart that I picked out Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for only ten cents.

I’ll be honest – I have seen this book before, and avoided it. I had read essays by Dave Eggers and have always been turned off by the style. He writes experimentally, which I usually appreciate, but overall has always come off a touch too contrived – somehow inauthentic. That afternoon, I was in the mood for non-fiction (or creative non-fiction, in this case) and felt maybe I could give Eggers another chance. Plus, I had ten cents.

In One Sentence: A memoir about a college graduate who must raise his younger brother in the Bay Area after the tragic death of both of their parents.

Favorite Line: “We are waiting for everything to finally stop working – the organs and systems, one by one, throwing up their hands – the jig is up, says the endocrine; I did what I could, says the stomach, or what’s left of it; We’ll get him next time, adds the heart, with a friendly punch to the shoulder.” – p. 17

Review: This is a polarizing read – you either love it or you hate it. And so, that is how this review will feel. There were sections of the book I love and could not put down, other parts that I hated and sludged through. I found the first section of appendixes unreadable; just a show without much substance. Once I got into the actual book, I found the first half incredibly fresh and enjoyable. Eggers opens up about the experience of losing his parents and the struggles of taking on a new life in California. Growing up in the Bay Area, I recognized the cities and places he lived. His story is more about the emotional experience than recording the actual events -which I found to show the authenticity I had been craving from Eggers but failed to find in his essays. I related to parts of his story and found his mix of both fiction and non-fiction created a unique reading experience. However, the second half of the book lost my attention as it seemed to show more distance — discussing philosophy or characters speaking for the sake of an idea and not in their truest form. I do think this is a book that should be read, and I admired many passages of writing, but overall would not necessarily recommend it for every reader.

The Book Would Have Ended A Lot Sooner If: The story was told from beginning to end, without so much added fluff. I mean, sixty pages of an interview conversation that NEVER HAPPENED?!



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