A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I really have no idea what to say about this memoir. I read it, and then set it down for a long time, and thought about it for a few days, and tried, but I didn’t know how to arrange my thoughts. So, if this seems odd, my apologies. 

At first I loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Dave Eggers made me laugh from the very get go with his ridiculous Preface, Contents, Acknowledgments [complete with an image of a stapler]. There are sections that stand out vividly and parts I really didn’t care about, parts I should have skipped, to be honest.
But this guy did make me laugh, and I give him an internet high five for that. 

Basically this is a story/memoir of Eggers’ younger life. It kicks off with his parents dying, both from cancer, both in the same year, the same winter. Which would suck and is strange and sad all at once. There are four kids in the family; Bill, Beth, Dave and Toph. Toph is much younger than the others, so when the parents pass away, Eggers – 21 years old – must “adopt” 7 year old Toph.
So, in essence, this book follows Eggers as he raises Toph… intermingled with his starting a magazine, his friends that he has, an audition for The Real World, his struggle with his parent’s deaths, whatever became of their bodies [donated to science], and his paranoia for how Toph will turn out. 

The BEST parts of this book would be the anecdotes about Toph and Dave. They are funny and kind of sad and also feel really… free. Like, you want to be playing Frisbee on the beach, or sliding in your socks across wood floors, because it seems so young and empowering the way Eggers writes it.

“Please look. Can you see us? Can you see us, in our little red car? … Look at us, goddammit, the two of us slingshotted from the back side of the moon, greedily cartwheeling towards everything we are owed… Today we have nowhere to be so we‘re on our way to Montara, a beach about thirty-five minutes south of San Francisco, and right now we are singing: She was alone! She never knew! [something something something!], When we touched! When we [rhymes with same!], all [something something]! All night! All night!.... Toph does not know the words, and I know few of the words, but you cannot fucking stop us from singing. I’m trying to get him to do the second all night part, with me doing the first part, like:
Me: All night! (higher)
Him: All-ll Night! (slightly lower)
I point to him when his part comes but he just looks at me blankly. I point to the radio, then to him, then to his mouth, but he’s still confused, and it’s hard doing any of this while trying not to careen off the road and into the Pacific and I guess in a way the gestures look like I want him to eat the radio. But Jesus, he should be able to figure this out. He isn’t cooperating. Or he could be dumb. Is he dumb?”

I love that part. It’s just a little sample of what Eggers does, how he directly interacts with the reader, his stream of conscious kind of writing style. He goes on in this chapter, showing that kind of freedom I was talking about:

“You can’t stop us from singing, and you can’t stop us from making fart sounds, from putting our hands out the window to test the aerodynamics of different hand formations, from wiping the contents of our noses under the front of our seats. You cannot stop me from having Toph, who is eight, steer, on a straightaway, while I take off my sweatshirt because suddenly it’s gotten really fucking hot. You cannot stop us from throwing our beef jerky wrappers on the floor, or leaving our unfolded laundry in the trunk for, fuck, eight days now, because we have been busy. You cannot stop Toph from leaving a half-full cardboard orange juice container under the seat, where it will rot and ferment and the make the smell in the car intolerable, with that smell’s provenance remaining elusive for weeks, during which the windows must be kept open at all times, until finally it is found and Toph is buried to his neck in the backyard and covered in honey – or should have been – for his role in the debacle.”

Like seriously? When I read that, it all just seems so tangible. You can see it all happening, like it’s playing out right before your eyes. Like the reader is there with them, in the car. Watching an 8 year old hold the car steady. 

Another great thing that Eggers does throughout the book is talk about a small instance that grows into a horrifically exaggerated scene. He does this a lot in reference to Toph and what Toph will eventually grow up to be. This instance is of Eggers not wanting to get a babysitter for Toph:

“Beth and I are still thinking it’s too early to leave Toph with anyone but family, that to do otherwise would cause him to feel unwanted and alone, leading to the warping of his fragile psyche, then to experimentation with inhalants, to the joining of some River’s Edge kind of gang, too much flannel and too little remorse, the cutting of his own tats, the drinking of lamb’s blood, the inevitable initiation-fulfilling murder of me and Beth in our sleep.”

The idea of a babysitter drastically changes into Toph becoming a drugged up, tatted, murdering gang member. It’s one of my favorite things that Eggers does in the book, this exaggeration method, jumping to the absolute WORST case scenario. 

But now. Those were the good parts. The parts I should have skipped? Anything that didn’t have to do with Toph. Like, the magazine stuff. The instances in the book where Eggers isn’t talking about Toph and himself, those are the parts that have lost heart in his writing. They just become boring and cold. Eggers still tries to be funny in those pieces of the text as well, but it falls flat. I wish that Eggers would have just stuck with the family motif, and stayed away from his career and things like that.

In the end, I’d say it’s worth a read, but don’t feel bad if you skip parts [Eggers actually suggests it in his Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book], because they didn’t read as well, didn’t make me FEEL as much as the parts about the struggle to keep some normalcy in the family’s life. To me, that was the REAL story. 

On to reading!


Looky Looky I Got a Booky

So, if you know anything about me by now, you know that I love books. I love buying books. I love reading books. I love owning books. 
And even when I have a pile a mile high of books to read, I still buy them. 
It's not like I won't EVER get to them, you know?

So anyway, here are the latest books that I have acquired:
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
I've always wanted to read this, especially since it's from the same guy who wrote The Virgin Suicides, which I thought was awesome.

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Truth be told, I actually just finished this one. I had no clue what it was about, it just came up on EVERY must read list, so I figured I would buy it. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I just read. So, look forward to that post, I guess.

On Booze - F Scott Fitzgerald
 It's called On Booze. It has F Scott's drinking stories in it. Why WOULDN'T I buy it?

F Scott Fitzgerald Classic Works
 This little gem, and by little I mean MONSTROUS book, was only $6 at Barnes and Noble the other day. It has two full length stories and 19 short stories. I'd call that a win.

The Stranger Beside Me - Anne Rule
I read this when I was very young... actually, probably too young. It scared the bejeezus out of me. I had nightmares that Bundy was going to come and kill me and my family. But, it also made me become obsessed with serial killers, which I guess is sort of a cool thing, but also kind of creepy.

House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski 
A customer at work recommended this book to me and my best friend. I bought her a copy and she bought me a copy, and she has already finished it. She says it's creepy but awesome, so I am really looking forward to it. It's gigantic, but when you look through the book, some pages only have one word on them, or a tiny paragraph. It is going to be a VERY unique read.

Joyland  - Stephen King
It's Stephen King. I had to get it.

IQ84 - Haruki Murakami
I read Kafka on the Shore, and didn't hate it. Was just very weirded out by it. So, why not try to revisit Murakami with a GIANT book? Who knows what I was thinking when I bought this. I think I blacked out.

On to reading!


Arts and Crafts Hour with Books

So, I have boxes upon boxes of books that I got FREE from the library... and I've been trying to think of what I should be doing with them, so I was looking up different ways to reuse and repurpose books in a fun way.
The art that I found from these artists is spectacular, in my opinion:

And then, this is what I've been doing with MY time lately:

forget love and anger, these devour you.
So we drank some beer

The girl was a beautiful creature

It's been keeping me entertained, and makes me feel like I am being at least a LITTLE creative, which I feel like I haven't done in a really long time.

On to reading!


Short Story Saturday

Short Story Saturday
 Richard Ford - "Rock Springs"

This is a story about a guy, Earl, his girlfriend, Edna, his daughter, Cheryl, and a little dog, Duke, who hit the road one day, headed for Florida. Earl seems to be a nice enough guy, but apparently in some trouble with the law, so he steals a car – a cranberry colored Benz – and the whole troop sets off from Montana. Only, the car dies on them on their way into a town called Rock Springs. Earl walks to a trailer park which is located very close to a plant of some sort [later to be revealed as a goldmine]. He is allowed into a trailer to make a call for a cab [having previously driven the stolen car into a ditch to hide it], the cab takes them to a nice hotel and Edna, who has been in a bad mood, tells Earl she will be getting on a bus in the morning to head back to Montana. It ends with Earl going out to the hotel parking lot looking for another car to steal. 

I’m not sure if I’ve described how I rate short stories before. It’s a very complicated system: A minus sign, [ - ], means I didn’t like it. A plus sign, [ + ], means I did. 
I hope that makes sense, like I said, complicated. 

This story had good parts, pretty OK dialogue, but it didn’t have a “wow factor” to it. I’ve read short stories where I am like “More!”, but Richard Ford did not do that for me. 

Edna was annoying. The only reason I felt like we should like her was because Earl did, but I think even he really didn’t. At the end, with her decision to leave, it seemed to be less about her leaving and more about the fact that Earl was going to have to take care of his daughter on his own from then on.

The only interesting part in the story, for me, was Edna’s anecdote about winning a monkey named Chipper [later to be renamed Mary] from a guy in a bar. One night, in an act of paranoia, she leashes the monkey on a chair to a door, in fear that the monkey might try to kill her in the night. Upon waking, the monkey was strangled, having fallen off the chair. And then Edna puts it in a garbage bag and throws it away. That little narration was the most interesting part of the story. 

Anyway, unfortunately this story got a [ - ], sorry Mr. Ford. It just didn’t ring any bells for me.

On to reading!


The Gargoyle

Ok. So.
Here I went from Magical Whimsical Childhood Happy Fun Time Book to this.

The Gargoyle


First off, lets talk about the cover. It’s pretty radical. My edition, I’m, unclear as to whether there may be any other cover art of it, which I’m sure there is, but frankly I’m too lazy to look it up.

Ok fine, I looked it up.

Mine is the best… besides maybe the angel wing tattoo one, but anyway. MY cover has a faded gothic looking statue engraving thingy (eloquent, yes?) but what I love about it is that the book’s edges look as though they have been burned – the cover is doing that cool curly burned raveled page thing.
I really should think about my descriptions before I go writing them out.

When people say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, I usually roll my eyes. Yeah, it’s true… but hell, if a book cover is rad, you’d better be damn sure someone’s gonna grab it off the shelf before a drab, dull cover.

So, in a lot of ways this book kind of reminds me of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, I’m sure I’m the only one to try and make THAT connection, but oh well. I think it’s probably the story within a story aspect that made me think that. In T.B.A. the regular plot is frequently interrupted by the story within a story, not much unlike The Gargoyle. This book is intermittently intersected with stories of love, love lost, and sacrifice. It’s really quite a great technique that he uses, just like Atwood, to keep the reader involved in everything that is going on. 

This novel is about a guy, which we NEVER learn his name, who was once an attractive male Pornstar – successful but careless. His drug and alcohol problem ultimately lead to him getting in a car wreck and the majority of his entire body is mutilated and burned.

In the hospital burn unit he meets a woman who insists that 700 years ago they were lovers in medieval Germany.
Pornstar Guy, Burney Dude, “The Gargoyle”… Let’s make him a Porn Star Nickname… Richard "Dick" Danger. So, Dick Danger listens in his hospital bed as this lady tells him the story of their past together - and basically can’t decide if the broad is crazy of not. 
Interestingly enough, the reader has to try and figure that all out as a well.

There seems to have been a lot of research put into this, and as a reader I really appreciate it. The explicit descriptions of burn victim treatments, I mean, I’m not an overly queasy person, but Davidson did such a graphic job of describing certain aspects WHAM, right off the bat, that I was a little skin crawly. 

The protagonist is a great character. Great as in you just keep reading because you feel for the guy. You connect to him. You want to know where his story will eventually end up. He is funny and dark and heartbreaking. 

I read this book in basically a day and a half. It was one that, try as I might, I couldn’t put down. I didn’t WANT to put down. 

On to Reading!