Yesterday I challenged readers (and writers) everywhere to reflect on books that were meaningful in their development as artists and members of humanity. The idea came from reading an article that quoted Dave Eggers about books that had “crushed” him and changed his life. I decided to spend the National Novel Writing Month thinking about the books that changed my life, one way or another (and, yes, I am working on a novel, too).
Which leads me back to the source of the quotation, Mr. Eggers himself. I remember when I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the first time. It had already been nominated for a Pulitzer, and the paperback edition had several changes in it. Among them: Apparently in the original work, Mr. Eggers had put the actual phone numbers of friends who were key figures in his life. Turns out, lots of readers called those numbers, so he took them out of subsequent editions.
Although the book is non-fiction, I loved the style: copious footnotes and asides, anecdotal episodes leading away from a narrative of painful reality, humor as a method for dealing with grief. My own recently completed novel (the Kindle version is up; print version is a few weeks away) was impacted by the flow of HWoSG, particularly the first-person, present tense chapters (if you read the preview, be warned the language is quite coarse).
I guess that brutal honesty with which Mr. Eggers described losing his parents and being thrust into guardianship of his siblings was so refreshing for a book. This story was probably labeled “memoir,” but it could have been fiction, as colorful as the “characters” were. Mr. Eggers paints a portrait of real people that feels real (so often memoirs read as puffed up and rather silly, as though all that tawdriness was just made up to titillate—so it’s hardly surprising when it turns out that the “true” tale is total codswallop!).
This paperback sits proudly on my “hardback only” bookshelf (somewhere I read that any books that can be viewed in a common area of a home, such as the living room, should be hardbacks… I guess I liked that idea, so my biggest bookcase holds most of my prized literature—first editions, signed copies, etc.). It’s a volume that belongs among the great books between which it’s wedged. It’s a book I highly recommend to all (and if you want to buy it, please consider clicking on the link above and visiting my Amazon affiliate page for your purchase).