Changing My Mind — Re Dave Eggers and Justin Taylor

Ah, expectations, you odd creature you. In the past week, I’ve read two authors I’ve had complicated relationships with, before actually reading them. And by actually reading them, complicated relationships got even more complicated. No, this isn’t a metaphor for anything.

Ahem. So. First: Dave Eggers. He’s one of those writers I know by reputation, and he’s one of those writers people assume I’ve read. Well. Nope, I haven’t. I tried reading his A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius [borrowed from a friend] had fun with the riotous and rambling introduction, made it to page 10 of the actual novel/memoir itself, and then gave up. I tried his You Shall Know Our Velocity [borrowed from a friend as well], and couldn’t get past the stylistic gymnastics. Bah. And then Zet [hi, Zet], lover of all things Dave Eggers, mentioned his short story collection, How We Are Hungry. [She reviewed it recently, here.] I found it in a bookstore days later and decided to buy it. I mean, hell, his longer works might not appeal to me, so why not try out his short fiction, given that I’m predisposed to liking short stories anyway?

And then there’s Justin Taylor. Earlier this year, previews kept popping up about Everything Here is The Best Thing Ever. And I liked what I was seeing, what I was reading. I liked it all so much I suppose I started mythologizing his collection, even before I’d seen a page of it. I was convinced that he was the male Miranda July — that he’d be a fount of sensitivity, of look-you’re-gasping prose. Of quirky situations, of the different and sad ways we love.

For Eggers, I labelled him as unreadable because he likes to run away with the form. I can only take so much cleverness before I barfed all that gimmick out. For Taylor, I labelled him Sasha’s New Favorite Author pre-read. I was enamored by that title, and the promises it offered. I was ExcitedPants for the dude.

And then I sat down and actually read them. Yesterday, I read the last stories of each of the collections. They weren’t what I expected, both of them. I’ll talk more about these two some time soon. But now? Now, I just have to think about how badly I damage my reading experiences by hungrily daydreaming about / blah-ing the hell out of the books I am yet to read. Also, I’m trying to figure out how exactly I can phrase the following: 1] Disappointment, 2] Shameless atonement.

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18 comments

  1. teadevotee · · Reply

    After ploughing all the way through ‘A Heartbreaking Work…’ I had written Eggars off as one of those writers that other people ‘get’ and I just think are massively pretentious and rambly. But maybe I could cope with short stories…

    1. Oh, wow, you actually finished AHWOSG. Eggers is pretty polarizing. Pretentious, yes. Rambly, yes. And this “quirkiness” that gets grating after a while. I think a part of me dislikes the whole self-referential meta-meta shtick because I’ve seen the greats do that, and in a much better way. I had an okay-enough experience with his short stories. But the farther I move away from them, the more I’m convinced that, well, I won’t be reading more of him anytime soon.

  2. For what it’s worth, I too have had no luck with Egger’s memoir. In fact, I made it to about 150, where he himself admits things get uneven and it was lucky the book was borrowed from a friend otherwise I would have been tossing it at the wall in frustration. Hated that book and it made me never want to read Eggers again!

    1. I actually enjoyed his lengthy preface + how he changed up the usual details on the publisher’s page. And there’s his drawing of the stapler. And then I realized, pages and pages into the memoir/novel itself, that I was sick of his stylistic fireworks.

  3. How disappointing! I’m listening to Zeitoun by Eggers right now, which is pretty straightforward, but I’m not particularly impressed. I won’t be running out and reading anything else by him, that’s for sure.

    1. Zeitoun is yet another borrowed Eggers on my shelf. Seriously, why do I do this to myself?

  4. I’ve read What is the What by Eggers earlier this year and Heartbreaking Work in highschool. I’m curious to hear what you think of his short stories. I try no to write anyone off before I read them, I’m usually willing to give every author a chance. Once at least. Trying a third one is pretty impressive!

    1. I think I keep giving his a chance because I reason that I haven’t really given him a whole chance. If that makes sense. I mean, I keep tossing his books aside; figured I owed it to something that I commit to a book before I completely write him off.

  5. I love this sentence! “I can only take so much cleverness before I barfed all that gimmick out.” Cheers, K

  6. I really like Eggers – especially his two “novels” What Is the What and Zeitoun (though the latter really is labeled as non-fiction, its sparsity of prose and, as one of your commenters says, straightfoward-ness, make it an easy read – definitely no literary fireworks in that one). Glad you came around to liking him through his short stories – which, I’ve actually never read…

    1. There’s a plainness of style to these stories. It’s a relief, actually. There’s less gimmicky, less fireworks. There’s a disparity between the form and the content — kind of feel like Eggers tripping here and there with the more conventional style — but when his stories work, they work great. When he fumbles, I gnash my teeth all over again.

  7. I really, really love Eggers mostly for What is the What. I got to finish Heartbreaking Work but only liked parts of it. How We Are Hungry was also very uneven for me. But What is the What really sunk deep. One of my favourite books of all time.

    1. I’m feeling skittish of Eggers after all my experiences with him, although I did appreciate some of the stories in this collection. But, you know, a lot of people seem to like What is the What a lot — so maybe, just maaaaybe, if I do return to him [not soon, though, eep], I’ll pick that up. Unless he writes some new stuff that’ll win me over.

  8. I did slightly better than you… I got to about page (hang on, let’s find the book)… 156, then left off. Funnily enough it does start getting slightly better but I couldn’t make head nor tale of him either.

    Is he conversational or witty? Literary genius or someone pretending to be a good writer? Hmm. Enigma. There are plenty of other authors out there that deserves more attention. I’ll let him stew on the back-burner for a while next to Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

    1. Is he conversational or witty? Literary genius or someone pretending to be a good writer?

      One of the reasons, I suppose, as to why I lose patience with him is how he self-referentially poses this question often, in his works. It’s annoying. And unnecessary. A call for attention. Polarizing, yes, but if I were given an ultimatum now, whether I’d give up Eggers forever or just try him out one last time, I’d probably

      Also, I read Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby a few months ago, and it surprised me–one of my favorite novels now.

  9. Another two writers to check out. Stopping by your blog usually means I add to my TBR list. It is long *exclamation mark*

  10. Interesting. I had the same reaction with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I just couldn’t make it through. Because of that, I’ve been avoiding him though Zeitun does sound interesting. I’ll just have to give him another chance.

  11. [...] Meh-ness that has been preventing me from putting this up. Oy, Dave Eggers, I’ve had my not-so-happy experiences with his stuff — basically, I don’t get him, [there's an Eggers clique, a memo I didn't [...]

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