Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I've got long division covered, thanks.

So the world may have taken a toll on my blogging, but now that I have things under control (or so I'd like to think), I'd say its about time I returned to the internet. After spending the afternoon in a job interview where the interviewers more or less assessed my ability to solve SAT-style math problems (think logic puzzles and long multiplication) on a white board in front of an audience, I could actually probably use a gin and tonic. Nevertheless, the inspiration for this endeavor (credit where credit is due) largely comes from my best friend Sarah, who finally started a blog (More Olives Please). After starting so many sentences with "Well one of my bloggers says", I for one am so excited that Sarah has decided to make the foray into online journalism. That being said, this return to blogging is one of my New Year's resolutions that has been a bit neglected up until this point. Though typically I don't make New Year's resolutions, this year I felt compelled to write down a few of the things I deemed worthy causes for 2010:
  1. Learn to like Diet Coke (and other more readily available diet sodas - no one serves diet root beer, its just a harsh reality)
  2. Get a salaried job (To pay for an apartment, ideally somewhere warmer than this icebox)
  3. Read books (that I like) while I am at school and revive the blog
  4. Pay off all parking tickets to the University of Virginia and not incur any others (already failed, but earnestly attempted)
  5. Look nicer for class (use a bag for gym clothes, it never hurt anyone)

So, in the spirit of resolution #3, I present A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers (also responsible for the screenplay of Where the Wild Things Are). Published in 2000, I was slow on the uptake with this one, which irks me a little considering I fancy myself a bookstore connoisseur. In a quest for new material over winter break, a good friend of mine told me this was a personal favorite of his. After investigating, purchasing, and reading (probably in less than 3 days), I can completely understand why. Eggers' humor is presented in the novel's very first page, which states very simply, "This was uncalled for." After a preface and introduction that, among many things, defend Pluto's planethood ("Why did we do that to Pluto? We had it good with Pluto."), it is apparent that Eggers' writing style is truly unlike any other. As someone who tends to write in a stream of consciousness (friends can attest to my paragraph-less emails), it took me no time to adjust to the quirky phrasing and syntax of Eggers' prose. Whether or not you've lost a parent, as Eggers does twice in the novel's beginning, the feelings expressed are ubiquitous for those of us teetering on the edge of adulthood. Eggers describes his parents' death without the soft glow so often found in the movies (think The Notebook). His father's passing in a haze of cigarette smoke and alcohol consumption in conjunction with his mother's prolonged battle with stomach cancer leaves Eggers without a sense of purpose and direction. It is in his younger brother, Toph, that he finds the project that will sustain him through his early twenties. After relocating from their suburban Chicago neighborhood to California, Eggers begins to understand the complexities of Toph, for whom he feels completely responsible. Though often framed as a burden, the reader quickly realizes that the relationship is as much a necessity for Eggers as it is for Toph. The other aspects of Eggers' life (namely women, alcohol, and work) are presented superficially and tangentially, which only further emphasizes the anchoring relationship of the two brothers. As Toph becomes increasingly self-reliant, Eggers realizes he not only depends on Toph's companionship, but validation that he serves a purpose for another individual. You find yourself rooting for each to find a place in their own life as Eggers' novel resonates with honesty, sadness, and the humor derived from life's subtleties.

"For example, we soon discover that, because the floors of the house are wood, and the house sparsely furnished, there are at least two ideal runways for sock sliding. The best is the back-deck-to-stairway run (fig. 1), which allows, with only a modest running start, one to glide easily thirty feet, all the way to the stairs leading to the lower floor, the first half of which can be jumped, provided one is prepared to drop and shoulder-roll upon hitting the landing, which, if stuck, should be punctuated with a Mary Lou Retton arm-raise and back-arch. Yes! America!"
- Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius


  1. Love it! So glad you are back!

  2. well i swore when Sarah said she was starting a blog I would follow only one. I guess I'll have to make room for two.