I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like reading my own journal, let alone someone else’s. This is one of the reasons why I pretty much avoid the whole memoir genre. There are, of course, memoirs that I’ve enjoyed, but mostly not. When it’s the memoir/journal of a paranoid, puerile, racist, sexist, self-absorbed, hypochondriac twenty-something, I run, not walk, the other direction. Unfortunately, when I was given A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers), I did not know it was a memoir; maybe I should have known, but I didn’t. Plus, there had been so much buzz around this book back in 2000 and 2001—it must be worthwhile, I thought. I was wrong.
There is almost nothing to say about AHWOSG that Eggers hasn’t already said somewhere in the book itself. He lays out the themes in the “Acknowledgements” and tells us in the “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book” that after the first three or four chapters, the book “is kind of uneven” and we might not “want to bother with” it. Now, you tell me: why would anyone knowingly publish something they knew wasn’t worth reading? Why would you waste the paper, the money, and other peoples’ time (just to name a few)? In my opinion, which is admittedly only my opinion, “because you can” is not a good reason.
And then there’s the racist, sexist, and generally offensive attitude, which is supposed to be okay because Eggers is self-conscious—as in, “It’s not really racist when I talk about my fear that a car full of young African-American men might pull out guns and shoot me, because I am aware of the seeming racism in my statement.” Well, yes, the book is self-conscious and never let’s you forget it. That just adds self-conscious to the list of the books qualities; it does not change its racism or anything else.
And Eggers knows it. He’s clearly smart and talented. If he decides to write something that is finished and edited, I’m optimistic about the results. (Perhaps someone has read some of his other work and can comment?) In the meantime, I was very glad to finish the book, because then I didn’t have to read it any more.