reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review # 45 What is the What by Dave Eggers

Listening to the news about South Sudan, I can’t help but think of the author of this book and what may be happening to him today.  What is the What was written about 7 years ago.  It is the biography of Valentino Achak Deng, a “lost boy” of Sudan.  It is characterized as a novel because Deng cannot remember all of the details and all of the conversations going back to when he was 7 years old.

The book is told in the first person and begins in Deng’s Atlanta apartment that he shares with another Sudanese. A man and a woman con him into opening the door, beat him, tie him up and rob him.  As he lies there, he begins to tell of his childhood in Marial Bai. He has experienced things much worse than robbery, yet the fact that this is happening in the country in which he sought asylum and safety is jarring.

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Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #83: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

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“I have no idea how people function without near-constant internal chaos. I’d lose my mind.”

Well, it’s definitely heartbreaking. As for staggering genius…eh. This memoir, written about the deaths of Eggers’ parents and his subsequent raising of his much younger brother (at the time of his parents’ deaths, Dave was 21 and his brother was 7) follows the Eggers brothers to California and watches them try their best to grow up together.

Eggers’ writing style is known to anyone who reads McSweeney’s, which I did religiously for a while and then became bored of. The book followed a similar path to me. It’s very meta — characters break the fourth wall occasionally and Eggers admits that he made certain parts up entirely. It also rambles in a stream of consciousness kind of way. At first, his way with language was enjoyable but eventually I began skimming the pages-long paragraphs of musings, just waiting for some actual plot to reappear.

The actual events of the novel are interesting, and Eggers’ attempt to pick apart his own psyche while raising his little brother is a heroic effort. Definitely an interesting work, and I think I may try one of his fictional novels next.

Kira’s #CBR5 “Review” #45: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

circleAbout a quarter of the way into Dave Eggers’ new novel, Mae is summoned to the office of her immediate superior at The Circle. Mae’s presence has been requested at the behest of Alistair, a developer from another department who is peeved that Mae — after being sent three notices — failed to RSVP for or attend his brunch for staffers interested in Portugal. Her “non-participation,” a mortal sin in the world of The Circle, is grounds for a passive-aggressive tongue lashing from her boss, plus a note on record with HR. When it comes to “engagement,” The Circle don’t play.

As an Eggers fan and closet Luddite, the concept of The Circle appealed to me. The novel is set at a large tech company, whose efficient and superior services have come to dominate the Internet slash world. Mae, a 20-something desperate to escape her job at a local utility, is hired by The Circle on the recommendation of her friend Annie, who is a high-level executive there. Through Mae’s nascent and later significant experiences as a Circle employee, Eggers’ latest chronicles the company itself, a business darling whose thinly veiled aspirations of world domination are excused by its image as a benevolent superpower, intent on making the planet a better place. And while The Circle’s true motives are something of a narrative foil, they also – in the grand scheme of things – don’t entirely matter: Good intentions or bad, is there a point at which the price of omniscience is too high?

[FULL REVIEW]

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #98: The Circle by Dave Eggers

UnknownMae Holland is a young woman in a crappy job when she gets the opportunity of a lifetime  – a role at The Circle, the most powerful and influential tech company in the world.  A hybrid of Facebook, Google, Twitter et al, The Circle is an all-in-one internet identity for users, linking everything from your personal banking, social media, online shopping, health care, internet searches – you name it, it has been consolidated.  There’s no agenda here, it’s simply the next logical step to making the internet a more convenient and tailored service for users.  Now that there is no anonymity, users are more considerate towards one another; with all your online activity in one place, it truly does offer real connectivity to the people and things you care about.

Mae is thrilled to be a part of the future and be involved in some projects with outstanding benefits – Child Track, which protects children from abduction by microchipping and monitoring their whereabouts, to a preventative health program, where an ingested chip constantly monitors and uploads data to your profile where changes will alert medical services.  Mae soon becomes integral to life at The Circle where she experiences just what true integration and sharing is.

This is a fantastic book.  Each step towards “completing the circle” (or “closing the circle” depending on your point of view) seems eminently logical.  Arguing against each small step towards further integration seems pointless, as individually, each step appears a good idea.  But when taken as a big picture, the concept is terrifying.  Is privacy a form of theft?  What is democracy?  What are the rights of the individual versus the rights of a society?  At times this may seem a little heavy-handed, but I loved the way this novel led me through the ever-increasing steps towards a totalitarian society, and yet each step seemed entirely justifiable.  The concept of communication and friendship – what does it really mean to have those ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ as opposed to meaningful connection?   Seriously, this is a wonderful book – one of the best I have read all year.

Mrs Smith Reads A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers, #CBR5 Review #16

Hologram King

Alan Clay is waiting for the King. He’s waiting in the Saudi compound of KAEC (King Abdullah Economic City) to make a huge presentation in hopes of securing a massive IT contract for his employer, and he’s going to be there for quite a while. Sounds riveting doesn’t it? A Hologram for the King, the novel, is about life, the universe and everything, albeit on a very compressed scale. The story though is quite human-sized—small, tired, overwhelmed and a little bit pathetic.

Mrs Smith Reads A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #20: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

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In the sake of being upfront with you, I feel it necessary to point out that I only knew of this novel by means of a tumultuous cock-tease of a friendship masquerading as something with the potential of becoming something more. CHB is what I call her now, short for Crazy Hipster Bitch, all valid descriptors of a girl who, around the time I finally and triumphantly cut her out of my life, was already on her way to such better things as academic probation at community college. It was months before I fully realized the clinical insanity I’d given myself over to in my interactions with her, yet she went on to become the first person I had ever truly hated. Since then, a couple others have also earned that dubious honor, but she remains at the head of that list.

CHB was the sort who was incapable of even nailing down a single favorite, be it book, movie, etc. Naturally, then, it came as no surprise that her favorite book changed on what seemed like a daily basis. Two books, though, were brought up with more frequency than all the rest:David Copperfield and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the latter being such a mouthful that I was prone to having a slip of the mind and getting it confused with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Before I decided I was done with her, I purchased a copy ofDavid Copperfield I found at the local Goodwill and began reading it right away, feeling that by doing so I’d gain a greater understanding of her as a person. People’s favorites often speak to their character on a deeper level than, say, any number of messages on OkCupid, often broken into two parts on account of us regularly going over the character limit, could.

This, however, was during the time when I started a lot yet finished very little, so my momentum trailed off about halfway through and never picked back up. To this day, David Copperfield sits on my shelf unfinished for no reason other than I didn’t have the necessary motivation to push through to the end. Based on what I did read, it has all the makings of a personal favorite, which is why even I was feeling a bit baffled it’d sat untouched ever since. Having now completed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, though, I wager it might be better left alone. Because, for the first 109 pages, I felt much the same about it as I did about David Copperfield. Eggers, like others I admire such as Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner, forwent conventions in favor of presenting his (mostly true) story in the manner of stream-of-consciousness prose that, for those 109 pages, lends it an extra level of sincerity and authenticity.

Except what came across so honest starts to feel contrived as you move further in and Eggers moves away from the “heartbreaking” (i.e., the death of his parents) and towards the “staggering genius” (i.e., the insipid, pretentious, and self-aware rambling that follows). I found myself wishing I’d taken the advice offered by Eggers himself in the section titled “rules and suggestions for enjoyment of this book.”

5. Matter of fact, the first three or four chapters are all some of you might want to bother with. That gets you to page 109 or so, which is a nice length, a nice novella sort of length. Those first four chapters stick to one general subject, something manageable, which is more than what can be said for the book thereafter.

6. The book thereafter is kind of uneven.

Uneven doesn’t even begin to describe it, as the highlights are far outshined by the lowlights. Since he has increasingly less to work with in the way of subject matter, that stream-of-consciousness style of his grates more than it benefits the monotonous story he’s trying to tell, and matters are only made worse by the moments in which Eggers takes the meta route of having his characters, whether it be his younger bother Toph or an interviewer for The Real World, gain a sort of omniscience that allows them to turn a critical eye on everything from Eggers’ actions to the writing of the book itself. In these sections, which go on for pages upon pages, Eggers engages in self-important discussion with himself, losing sight of the emotional core of the story (i.e., the death of his parents and how that effects him, Toph, and his older sister Beth).

Perhaps Eggers realized things needed sprucing up in some sense, seeing as one can only be so intrigued by a person who spends over half the book simultaneously running a magazine and hating the whole process. Thus, he went about flaunting his “staggering genius” in order to distract readers from just how insufferable he was becoming, succeeding only in becoming more irksome in the process. Instead, he should’ve focused upon those few moments that don’t ring hollow, such as many of the ones which occur during his trip back home. For instance, there’s a scene in which he goes to dispose of his mother’s ashes in the sea and ends up channeling Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski, which is to say he fails in a tragic, yet also somewhat comic, fashion. But those get lost amid all the rambling, directionless prose. In addition,he would rather speed off on a tangent than stay in the moment, which results in countless scenes not having nearly as much impact as they would otherwise.

By comparison, the opening chapters, despite hopping around in time, have an undeniable sense of immediacy and focus, which is part of why they hit home for me to such a degree. That and, as I already mentioned, they felt the most real. They were raw, yes, but all the more beautiful for it. This was a man letting out all those pent up emotions in the only way he knew how, uninhibited by all things, namely literary conventions. I felt like I was actually reading a memoir or, rather, a diary, whereas everything else felt gussied up and fake, like a teenage girl putting on airs and trying to pass for an adult when she still has the body of a young boy and mind of, well, a young girl. Though at times she might say something “heartbreaking” or “genius,” and though you might almost be tricked into loving her for it, her words will mostly want to make you grab a hold of her and tell her to stop because she’s fooling no one. Unfortunately, you can’t do that with a book. All you can do is skim through all the side-stories that have been tacked on until you return to the meat of the story, a process which took longer and longer as the story wore on and Eggers disappeared further and further up into his own head and up his own arse.

To be fair, I should’ve seen it coming, what with there being 39 pages of introductory material prior to the start of the story proper, material which includes things ranging from an “incomplete guide to symbols and metaphors” to the aforementioned set of “rules and suggestions for enjoyment of this book.” Did I mention that those “rules and suggestions” are nothing but Eggers saying not to read this and that, suggesting that even he knows it’s a bit much, yet doing nothing about it despite protestations from his “early readers.”

2. There is also no overarching need to read the acknowledgements section. Many early readers of this book (see p. xxxix) suggested its curtailment or removal, but they were defied. Still, it is not necessary to the plot in any major way, so, as with the preface, if you have already read the acknowledgements section, and wish you had not, again, we apologize. We should have said something.

I remember scanning all this prior to diving into the actual story and finding it cute, in its own way. Oh, how opinions change. No differently than CHB’s idiosyncrasies went from charming me deaf, blind, and dumb to driving me to madness, so too did Eggers’. So if you read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, proceed with immense caution, and pay closer attention to the signs, the cracks in the facade, than I did. Maybe do as Eggers says and stop at page 109. Better you be careful and stop early than read on and have what comes next mar all that came before.

That all being said, if Eggers’ tale is one you can personally relate to, as I know CHB could, given her mother died when she was young, then you might get better mileage from the book than others. Still, I advise you to be careful; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius really is a divisive book, and not simply because of its title.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #06 A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I’ve read this book before. I will read this book again, probably many times. Writing an overly positive review without sounding too schmucky is hard, so I’ll keep this one pretty short. If you haven’t read Eggers before, I highly encourage you too. His style really sticks with you, be it fiction or non. His most recent book (A Hologram for the King) came out last summer and was on plenty 2012 top ten lists. This book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWOSG), is still my favorite. And I admit, I’ve read pretty much everything he’s ever written. I’ve bought books based solely on the fact that he has written the forward. So, recognize my slight obsession, and on the one hand, take this glowing review with a grain of salt. On the other hand, READ THIS NOW.

Check out the rest here, benmitchelllewis.com, but be aware, I realllly like Eggers.