References in Dave Egger’s A.H.W.O.S.G. that I Understand Now

June 12, 2009

Written in the style of one Mr. Dave Eggers as interpreted by revisingproust

I was going to wait to write this post after reading the entire 400+ pages of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  However, it’s Friday and no one has really updated nonpretentious, so I figured I might as well, because we all know you need/want/desire/crave/yearn for something to read at work, especially on a Friday.  (Note:  I’m lazily writing this post and it may not actually be posted for you to read until after work on Friday, if you live on the East Coast of the United States of America.)

So, why did I decide to post this post now instead of waiting until I finished A.H.W.O.S.G.?  Well, the readers of nonpretentious are such smart, creative, intellectual (synonym for smart), college-educated (except for those who aren’t), bookish bookworms that I had no doubt that they may be creating their summer reading lists or photographing their summer reading lists or updating their summer reading lists if they happen to keep their lists in electronic form.  (I know I am.)

And, in case they’ve never read A.H.W.O.S.G., I wanted to recommend it so that you could add it to your queue.  So, there.  It’s RECOMMENDED.

[Insert sound kinda like this:  RRRRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRR]

In case you didn’t know how to pronounce “RRRRrrrRRR” (shortened here for obvious reasons like space conservation, brevity, clarity, and other journalistic tenets that I just learned about WITHOUT the cost of attending J school), that’s the sound of a spinning record that is stopped randomly, abruptly, as if someone said something that shouldn’t be said.  Like if someone, let’s say a girl, for example, recommends a book about which people have these strong feelings: hate¹, love², detest, adore, loathe, admire³. If this girl recommended that book – well, it’s all eyes on her, stupid one.

I mean, if you haven’t read it, you should know that the book – by this I mean THE book about which I write this post – focuses on the most pressing of all world problems hunger, orphanism, poverty, “what to do with people in their twentysomethings who think they own the world, deserve the world, are the world.”  (Note: that’s not really a quote.  I included quotation marks to make a point.  But, actually, now that I think about it the last part may be a quote.  As in, it may or may not be a tidbit from an actual (virtual?) exchange  (text message) between me and another one of nonpretentious’s contributors, but I digress.)

If you already knew that (that = premise of the book), you probably  also guessed that all those hipster-hating-hipsters would have OPINIONS on the book.  And, when opinions enter the picture, you know that the record stops, so you probably knew the sound of “RRRRrrrRRR” (shortened again here.  see: above).

But seriously, are we going to let the negative people run our lives?  NO WAY!  Fuck the naysayers! (Sorry Toph, I included a curse word.  You must be old enough though to have thrown around a few F-bombs yourself.)  Plus, if you can’t beat ‘em – the hipsters, I mean – why not join ‘em?  Read this controversial book (and What Is the What (Vintage), another book by Dave Eggers)!  Have opinions!  Share your opinions!  Look down on others for having (different) opinions!

Anyway, I figured that I waited long enough to read this book.

(Fine, I’ll admit that I had my own “opinions” about Dave Eggers.  Not so much love or hate, more awe and jealousy – which may or may not be the same things.)

(Okay, if I really want to be truthful, I may have also had an ulterior motive.  I wanted to write about a controversial topic because I wanted people to leave (more) comments on my posts.  Don’t hate me!  Comments are the best way a girl who writes on a blog can see the attention she garners.)

The plus side to taking this long to read a book that was published in 2001?

Well, I was a very different person in 2001.  In 2001, I didn’t care about the same things that I care about now.  In 2001, I wanted to be a writer, my parents wanted me to go to business school.  I lived in a sorority house and I dated three Michaels at the same time – which was a nightmare when any of my three roommates had to take a message.

I know a lot of things now that I didn’t know then.  In fact, you know that song – I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger – I didn’t even know that song in 2001.  (I mean, I probably had heard it because my parents are Rod Stewart freaks fans but I vividly remember hearing it in 2002-2003, as it was the last song of the morning night at all of the parties in the house I lived in at 523 S. Fourth Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104).

Without further ado, here is the list of references in Dave Egger’s A.H.W.O.S.G. that I know now that I did not know in 2001:

- Mumia

- Functioning alcoholics is not an oxymoron.  Plenty of alcoholics are lawyers, teachers, and doctors;

- Quid pro quo.  (Nothing like law school to teach you Latin phrases.);

- On a related note: Whether Beth had a “really terrible LaToya Jackson moment” is besides the point.  (She fucking went to law school during the book’s pertinent years.  I was lucky if I did my own laundry/studying when I was going to law school.   Kudos to all Eggers family members.);

- The 17-hour days of running a magazine (er, website) written by 20-somethings who know nothing about selling advertising;

- On a related note: Taking pictures for said magazine;

- The format of script writing;

- Major Tom (as in, “Spike Lee Major Tom Dick and Harry Connick, Jr. Mints.”  p. 129 of my edition);

- Battlestar Galatica
icon (affiliate link) (still haven’t seen though it’s on my queue);

- On a related note: Ordinary People
icon, which I also haven’t seen but is on my queue (affiliate link);


- Suicide attempts;

- Country Day;

- BoingBoing.  (Iin fact, I remember when another nonpretentious author told me about BoingBoing.  Years later, said nonpretentious contributor also told me about TED.  How relevant.)

There are probably others but I didn’t earmark the pages and I don’t remember them off the top of my head now.

I still had to wiki Johnny Bench.  I IMDB’d Adam Rich.  And, I probably appreciate the references to Vince Vaughn more now.

In short, Dave Eggers lived my dream.  In fact, he wrote a guidebook for people like me.  You know, nonpretentious people.

Now that it’s 6 o’clock in the morning and in a few hours, at 8 o’clock in the morning, I am going to sit with my little sister while she has an MRI due to cysts found on her brain and her ovaries – oh, woe is me her! – I’ve decided (in good judgment) to post this as a Letter to Inspiring Writers.  I have not researched Dave Egger’s e-mail address – perhaps I will later.  Instead, I’ll imagine a dialogue.

ME: You seem to have lived the life that I aspire to live.  What advice do you have for someone like me?

HE: Keep on living your dream.  Stop worrying about your credit card debt, your student loans, your makeshift job.  Continue.  Continue.  Continue.

ME: Will you critique any one of my short stories and give me honest feedback of how I can improve?

HE: Sure.

(Time delay as HE reads.)

HE: Whoa! revisingproust, would you ever consider writing something for publication in McSweeney’s?

ME: I thought you’d never ask.

HE: I know you dream about living in San Francisco and you sometimes daydream about moving back to Ann Arbor.  Would you ever consider running an 826 workshop?

ME: Seriously?  (I may have peed in pants with excitement).

HE: Or opening 826 Philadelphia?

ME: (Speechless.)

¹ In the following footnotes, I will refer to the comments about A.H.W.O.S.G. on goodreads, only then will you realize what a controversial book it is.  Only then will you realize what a controversial recommendation yours truly just made.

From Tara:

One of my least favorite books of all time! I think it’s a sack of bullshit, to be perfectly honest. It was one of those books where I cringed with frustration as I turned every page, and I only wanted to finish it so that I could say I found nothing redeeming about it. Oh sure, he was flashy and could draw a cheap laugh, but it was like admiration for bubbles: it went nowhere and said nothing. I was disgusted with the title when I first heard of it, and though I can see there’s some self-ridicule going on, I can also see that no, there’s not, and he’s really pretty satisfied with himself. I then heard so much lovely stuff about it, which worries me now in retrospect, but I tried it with an open mind; nah, it blows. I won’t even go into the hundred reasons why it sucks, since the author is such a vapid creature full of style and lacking substance, that the book doesn’t really merit an intellectual attack. In fact, to really put it out there, I think it’s every single thing that is wrong with certain aspects of modern literature. Foster Wallace and Eggers can suck my metaphorical dick, since they seem to exist for nothing else but their own pretension. Way to reveal modern angst boys, sorry that people a lot smarter did it better a hundred years ago, and said something relevant for people who weren’t self-absorbed fops. I look forward to a future world cataclysm in which this book can be lost, and something worthwhile take its place in the literary canon. (Also, I apologize to all the people who really sincerely love this book. I know I like some things that can be deemed pretty trivial. And who knows, maybe the author is a nice enough guy. I just, I gotta say it, I really can’t stand this book, and wish there were better books around to take away some of its appeal. Art for the ego just doesn’t seem enough).

From Matt Lohrke:

as a huge douglas coupland fan, i thought i might enjoy ‘a heartbreaking work…’ i should’ve known better. i tried to read ‘you shall know our velocity’ last year and found it entirely unreadable. i gave up after 200 pages of nonsense. several friends raved about ‘ahwoasg,’ so i thought, ‘ok, i’ll give eggars another try.’ again, i was horribly disappointed.

the pros: yes, it’s funny at times and very *honest* (though can we take eggars at his word? never trust an autobiography). i laughed out loud several times while reading. many of eggars observations are insightful and funny. and yes, we do feel badly for dave and toph (at least in the beginning) and the the sibs after they lose their parents and head west. the ‘here’s a drawing of a stapler’ was a good one, but the novel is short on humor and long on ‘look at me and feel badly for me and my poor little brother.’ in the end i just didn’t care, nor did i have any reason TO care. narcissists don’t necessarily make compelling protagonists.

the cons: 500 pages of psychobabble, ‘witticisms,’ and ‘biting obseravtions’ don’t necessarily make one a ‘talented writer,’ as so many have stated. get an editor, for crying out loud. the prose isn’t anything write home about — it’s sloppy and unfocused (and what’s the dropping the ‘f-bomb’ 20 times per page? get a thesaurus while you’re at it). read eggars and then read steinbeck, eugenides, or ishiguro and you’ll see the masters at work. this novel is so completely self-indulgent and bloated that i kept looking for a needle under my bed to pop the darn thing. eggars tries WAY too hard to show how ‘clever’ he is (by using his oh-so-ironic hipster slang), but he’s not as clever as he wants to believe (unless he’s playing us all — if that’s case, i would applaud him).

in short, it has it’s funny moments, but so did my grandma’s funeral. i’m just glad i bought it used.

From David:

Mr. Eggers has a genius for two things: finding and publishing some of the more exciting writers working today; turning “Weeee! Weeee! Look at me!! I am beautiful and so good to my little brother!!! Weeeee! Don’t you want to touch me?” into 496 pages.

²A Five Star review, from Shannon:

The book isn’t simple- it’s complex, and powerful, beautiful, hilarious, and above all: is feels utterly sincere.

Obviously the title is hyperbolic.. but it’s not completely ironic/innacurate either..

Eggers has a great little thing about Irony/the title being ironic/the book being ironic.. in the added section of the book “Mistakes we knew we were making”. In which he’s like,”you fuckers don’t know what irony means; let me explain”*. It’s all true. *This isn’t an actual quote from him.

He uses profanity in an extremely pleasing, effective way. He says motherfucker and fucker a lot and it works really well. I know it’s weird to think that profanity can “work” or not, but it’s true.. it COULD make the writing seem overly casual, flippant, and bland. It does not. Because Eggers knows what the fuck he’s doing.

I liked when the characters broke out of their character-ness and started talking about.. being in the book. Kind of breaking down the third wall. That was also effective; a less skilled writer couldn’t have pulled it off.

Eggers is a very skilled writer, I think, though it’s easy to miss because you’re busy being entertained (and having your heart slightly broken) by the events in the book.

Also, the relationship between him and his brother is awesome. Maybe I’m biased towards brotherly depictions but I thought that was the thing that held the book together and gave it most of its.. heart. Though it had lots.

This book is very funny. Genuinely. Egger’s ability to see situations (any situation) as capable of being depicted as both sad/beautiful AND hilarious may be his greatest strength as an author.

Memoirs are a difficult genre, I think. To write or read. I think Eggers pulled it off effectively and with great aplomb.

³From Shair, rated 5 stars, who speaks the truth:

Thanks, Buckles, for encouraging me to read this all of those years ago! I remember at the time you said that you thought Eggers’ writing was a lot like mine. I admit I felt swell about this while reading the book . . . sort of a strange sense of misplaced pride: “Ah, look what a clever thing he did just there, with those footnotes. That IS exactly what I would do! Well done, me. Er, I mean, Dave Eggers.” And then, of course, after the pride came the fall. Realizing that while my own such memoir would be clever, sad, heartfelt, and sharp as hell in theory, Eggers was the one who had actually done it in practice. Son of a bitch, right? But, I digress. It’s a GREAT book. One of my favorites of the past 10 years.

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9 Responses to “ References in Dave Egger’s A.H.W.O.S.G. that I Understand Now ”

  1. RustedJesus on June 13, 2009 at 4:37 am

    I passed along the post to my contact at 826 Valencia (SF). Hopefully it'll get into the "right" hands. wink wink

  2. nonpretentious on June 15, 2009 at 3:30 am

    sweet! I only wish I had edited it before I posted it. Oh well, I'll edit it sometime this week.

  3. mr.killstudent on June 16, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Wow, I never read this book, why are those commenters so mad about it? It's not like there's never been a bad book before. If it still sucks after 50 pgs, toss it aside and find a better one.

    Also, I wouldn't mind a few more revisingproust entries in this voice…

  4. revisingproust on June 16, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    I know! I mean, there are so many horrible books out there this isn't even close to being a bad book.

    I will try to be more emulating in the future.

  5. nonpretentious on June 19, 2009 at 4:48 am

    Mr kill, read the book! I'd love to hear your opinions

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. MaudieOberlanderduzdbgf on March 26, 2011 at 5:32 am

    buying it now hehe. :D

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