Monday, April 24, 2006

His Name is Dave Eggers
"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"
by Dave Eggers

I first heard about Dave Eggers two years ago. His book was big news at the time, but I neglected to read it. He re-entered my memory when I read an article about 826LA, a sister center of 826 Valencia that tutors children on writing fiction and creative non-fiction for free. He founded 826, is an editor of edgy, humorous, and entertaining McSweeney's, and is an amazing writer.

The book has been on my shelf for a year and a half. I picked it up a couple of weeks ago to give it a go, to see what all the hype was, to make my own judgment. Eggers is talented, that's for sure. He can make you laugh or cry or anything in between. His writing is fleeting and enthusiastic and dark and depressing all in one fell swoop. "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" tells of his struggle to cope with the death of his parents while raising his brother Toph, only 15 years his junior. It's far from a perfect book, but what is? The story is inherently touching; any reader must exude admiration for the painstaking life Eggers has led, the amount of responsibility he took on and the courage to describe it honestly (sometimes humorously) for the world (us readers) to pick apart as I am doing right now. In McSweeney's fashion, Eggers has a preface with parts of the book to skip and a lengthy acknowledgements section outlining themes of the book, disclaimers on sex in the book (one section details how several nude scenes were omitted), and an outline of the amount of money it Eggers made from the book. And while funny, it's a bit trying. And even though he wrote that it's okay to just skip over the preface and acknowledgement section, I can't, because I have to read every word. So it got a bit self-indulgent, a tad annoying, but just when I had the book cocked back ready to throw across the room the story started and I was on this whirlwind rollercoaster of disbelief and failure and brotherhood and love. And it paid off.

The cover's pretty. I like the red curtain pulling back from the sun. Red. Like the world's a show or something.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Exciting litblog

While in Oregon, browsing the internet, I've come across a very interesting litblog I've had some time to explore. It's led to a lot of great discoveries.

Good websites are few and far between, and I'm pretty happy to have found one. It isn't often.

Its name is Conversational Reading

Little Book of Wonders
"The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

This little gem comes with a whopping punch. For anyone looking to speak better, write better, or plain communicate better, this book offers sound advice and helpful examples. Writers will like the chapters on Style and Composition, grammaphiles will enjoy the rest, and everyone will benefit. Strunk started it, and E.B. White (of Charlotte's Web fame) finished it, touched it up, made it a classic. The book is so well written; after I finished one chapter I fell asleep and had a dream of completing a sentence correctly or choosing the right word, just the right word. I'm not saying it was pretty, I'm saying it was effective. Writers of fiction and non-fiction narrative will gain greatly from this book, from rules and advice like use the active voice, be clear, and omit needless words, you'll take a lot from this tiny bible. It's exciting to know this book exists, even more exciting to own it and flip through it whenever I need a sound word of encouragement and advice.

I like the cover. It's elegant in a mainstream, tongue-in-cheek, way.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Make Love Not War
"A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway, at a nubile 30, composed this taut, gripping tale about an ambulance driver who falls in love with a nurse in the midst of World War 1 in powerful prose. The thing to love most about Hemingway is the way he tells his stories. Unpretentious to the last, you can read his novels at face value or in between the lines (of course, between the lines is always a far richer experience, and Hemingway is a master of the unsaid), and this book is no different. The novel floats back and forth between a never-ending world war filled with desperation and loads of men who don't want to fight in it and a love story that blossoms in a hospital and blooms across the whole of Europe (including a beautifully rendered Switzerland). It is ultimately a beautiful story about love and loss and death and the inexplicable mystery of war and humans killing each other whether they're on the same side or not (at least sometimes). Hemingway is a master, of course, but his books, and this one is no exception, should be read as any other book. They all have their faults, minimal faults, but faults nevertheless. The important thing is that those faults don't govern the story. Here, of course, they do not, and even though the dialogue is often stiff and forced, the romaticism rings true, the war is depressing, and the story itself is uplifting, tragic, human, and evocative beyond many even half-efforts. It's a book that almost demands a second reading. Knowing the end, everything before that takes on more weight, is given more gusto, and rings with a fair necessity that this, friends, is life.

There are several covers, as there are several editions. And, given this particular cover, I'm glad I didn't judge the book solely by the cover. It, sadly, blows.

The story behind the novel, and others, can be found here.