Friday, March 1, 2013

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

About a year ago a friend of mine suggested that I read this book.  I added it to my TBR list, but it was VERY far down the list because it isn't YA, a mystery, or even an author I was familiar with.  Well...Do you remember me telling you about how I made a friend read I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella while he was on vacation?  It was THAT friend who suggested Staggering Genius.  After a 49 year old male sat on the beach reading my HARD copy of Sophie's book (not even an ebook he could easily disguise), there was NO WAY I was getting out of reading this book.  He insisted it was an "Outstanding Book", so I decided it was time to read it.

I found a copy at my local library in the FICTION section.  I started reading and about 50 pages in I began to wonder why I still didn't know the narrator's name.  We know every other name, but not his.  When I reached page 100 it hit me....the narrator is Dave Eggers.  So...I spent some time researching this and discovered the book is a memoir based upon Dave's real life experiences, but there are fictional elements scattered throughout.  Here is where we could use a game of "Real or Not Real" because it isn't always obvious to me which is which.

Dave lost both of his parents to cancer at the age of 21 and became the primary caregiver for his 8 year old brother Toph.  All of this is outlined in the book in a manner that allows the reader to experience the emotions, but not get bogged down and depressed.  Shortly after his mother's death, Dave and Toph move from Chicago to Berkeley, CA to start over.  His sister is in law school out there and can help out with Toph, so the move makes complete sense. The majority of the book takes place in California as we experience Dave and Toph's daily existence.  How they manage school, work, Dave's dating, their inability to keep the house clean, etc. 

Dave starts up a magazine with a group of friends targeting "twenty somethings" like themselves.  There is eventually an opportunity to try out for the Real World, which is used as a marketing tool.  Anyone who has ever watched the show will find this section very entertaining. 

We learn about Dave's constant fear that something will happen to Toph whenever he leaves him with a sitter.  The over the top descriptions of events that play out in Dave's head are absolutely hilarious.  The same is true with all of the inner dialogue and comments Dave adds to conversations in order to give the reader added insight.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was nothing like any other dry and usually boring autobiography I have ever read.  Dave has an exceptional ability to grab the reader's attention and keep them engaged, and it all appears to be effortless.  I have to give Dave and Toph props for overcoming what some would have considered insurmountable odds.  I don't know if he has any other books that will appeal to me, but if you have read and enjoyed any of his other works...I would love to hear about them.

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