Dave Eggers

When I was about eighteen, I bought a book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Catchy title, no?

The author of this book is a dude called Dave Eggers. The gist of the book is that his parents die, both of cancer, within a period of a few months, and his older siblings move away. He then brings up his little brother, Toph.

It sounds massively unhilarious, I concede, but it isn’t. In fact, he was bringing the lols long before the acronym had been invented… The book is called a novel, so that he can compress time and characters to make it more readable, but it’s basically the facts.

His second book is about a guy who tumbles into a lot of money, by virtue of his picture being made famous. It’s a thin veil for what I think is another autobiographical tale. The book’s protagonist travels around the world trying to give the money away, in envelopes full of cash. It’s part travel-diary, part post-modern absurdism. The book is called ‘You Shall Know Our Velocity’. It was lent to me by an American guy I met in Beijing (Hi Ben, if you’re reading).

So, then Dave Eggers was famous! He opened a charity called 826 Valencia and an online literary magazine called McSweeneys.

McSweeney’s is great. It seems to exclusively feature short comic fiction. They print no poetry, no seriousness, no non-fiction. It’s consistently funny. You should totally click on the link.

The most recent Dave Eggers book I read is called What is the What. Like the other books, it’s a novel but it’s also the autobiography of a guy called Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese man who was a refugee from the Sudanese civil war (the conflcit before the Darfur conflict). I’ve never read a more page-turning, exciting, moving story. It made me go out and donate to the people who run the refugee camps.

The next book is called Zeitoun. It came out this year, and it’s the story of a muslim guy living in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina. He stayed in his house, and when the National Guard came around the neighbourhoods after the storm, they arrested him and held him for 20 days without charge. Because an American man, in a canoe, in a flood, is highly likely to be a terrorist..

Here’s the review from the New York Times:

“Imagine Charles Dickens, his sentimentality in check but his journalistic eyes wide open, roaming New Orleans after it was buried by Hurricane Katrina…. Eggers’s tone is pitch-perfect—suspense blended with just enough information to stoke reader outrage and what is likely to be a typical response: How could this happen in America?… It’s the stuff of great narrative nonfiction…. Fifty years from now, when people want to know what happened to this once-great city during a shameful episode of our history, they will still be talking about a family named Zeitoun.”
— Timothy Egan, The New York Times Book Review

Can’t wait to read it!

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

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