Tag Archives: Dave Eggers

Authors Against Authoritarian A-holes

They’ve imagined nightmare-inducing horror stories, near-future dystopias, and untold misery caused by everything from childhood to marriage. But when it comes to Donald Trump, some of our favorite authors draw the line. According to the New York Times, more than 400 writers have signed a petition protesting his candidacy:

A group of more than 400 writers, including big names such as Stephen King, David Eggers, Amy Tan, Junot Díaz and Cheryl Strayed, released an online petition on Tuesday to express their opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy on the grounds that he is appealing to the darkest elements in American society.

“The rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response,” they wrote.

Of course, that was yesterday. The number is now closer to 8,000 signaturesContinue reading

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The Circle Jerk

The Circle

I wish someone besides Dave Eggers had written The Circle, a book about an Internet company that takes over the world.

I wish Jonathan Franzen had given The Circle the convincing female characters that tend to feature in his work, instead of the flatness and predictability of protagonist Mae and her best friend Annie, an up-and-coming Circle luminatus who hires her best friend from college into an entry level “Customer Experience” job. Quick plot summary: without really much emotional turmoil, Mae succumbs to corporate logic that technology has all the answers and that privacy is unequivocally bad, and ultimately helps the Circle to worm its way into dominant control over human activity writ large. I wish DFW had provided his sharp, brutal insights into corporate stagnation and hollow, apostatic greed, coupled, perhaps, with Douglas Coupland’s humor and particular flair with Silicon Valley. More than anything, I wish Jesse Ball had leant his far, far subtler allegorical vision and tidy but tender character interactions, rather than Eggers’ brutish (if earnest) attempt to steer a conversation about the politics of technology.

I wish all these things because we really need a much more convincing, more clever version of The Circle to intervene in ethical discussions of what it means to be online, to build relationships with and to and through data and algorithms. The last week has seen a raging debate on social media, privacy, experiments and research. The recap: Facebook researchers designed a technological intervention into the news feed of 700,000 users, tweaking the feed for two weeks based on semantic analysis of emotions. Results of the study were written up in a top research journal, and have leant themselves to some fairly scary headlines about Facebook manipulating the emotions of users without their knowledge. The fallout has stretched across mainstream newsmedia and the technoelite, provoking corporate apologies and much academic debate.

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The Boy Kings of Publishing

The Boy Kings

Yesterday one of the first people Facebook ever hired went on Twitter to denounce Dave Eggers, whose forthcoming novel, The Circle, sounds awfully similar to her memoir about Facebook’s early days, The Boy Kings. In the process, Katherine Losse makes some great points about fairness (or lack thereof) as it relates to art, gender, and fame.



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So much happened in the first half of 2012/YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE that it turns out I missed a few things. On 21 February, Wallace’s birthday, Berfrois ran “The Depressed Person in The Marriage Plot,” in which Daniel Roberts takes a closer look at the connections between Wallace and the character Leonard in Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest book. Adding to the steady march in April, Publishers Weekly began a two-week countdown of “The Top 10 Infinite Jest Characters,” starting with #10 (Barry Loach) and moving toward #1 (see here). Also, on 21 April came the long-awaited (by me at least) end of the “live” part in “Words, Words, Words: The Infinite Jest Liveblog.”

After a relatively uneventful May and June, YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE came roaring back in July. The monthly issue of GQ featured an interview with Nick Offerman, better known as Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” in which Offerman talked about being “halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – a writer who escaped my notice until a few years ago, when posthumously his final novel, The Pale King, came out.” In the very same issue of GQ, a Wells Tower piece on the pornstar James Deen made a Wallace-esque mention of one of Deen’s colleagues: “Kayden Kross, a wholly winning and improbably bookish young woman who reads the short fiction of David Foster Wallace between takes.” On 8 July, as noted, Roger Federer won Wimbledon, which led to Wallace-Federer references in The Telegraph, The Daily Beast, The Week, and GQ.com. There was even a weird piece on Wallace’s faith titled “Roger Federer Killed David Foster Wallace,” as well as an anti-Federer piece on the LRB Blog which noted that “‘Federer Moments’, as David Foster Wallace famously called them, are part of what I dislike. ‘Federer as Religious Experience’ says more about Wallace’s genius than Federer’s.” The following day, Michael Cunningham took to The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog to explain why Wallace (and others) didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Also on 9 July, the “Nieman Watchdog” at Harvard University offered “Lessons on covering politics from the late David Foster Wallace.” On the 11th, Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians books used his first impressions of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story to talk about hysterical realism. On 13 July, Page Turner posted a piece about subsidized time. Federer’s victory was still yielding DFW alerts when there came, on 16 July, the other significant non-book event in the YODFW: the launch of “Infinite Boston.”  The project was an ambitious effort by William Beutler to photograph and write about the real-life equivalents of various IJ locations:

I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts with the express purpose of visiting as many of the landmarks and lesser known precincts that appear in, or provide inspiration for, the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest as I could manage…now I am pleased to present what I am calling “Infinite Boston”: a ruminative travelogue and photographic tour of some fifty or so of these locations, comprising one entry each non-holiday weekday, from now until sometime in early autumn.

“Infinite Boston” attracted broad interest, showing up on The Millions, The Rumpus, National Geographic’s The Radar, Fast Company’s Co.Create blog, and from there the technology section of nbcnews.com, among others. The notice was well deserved. “Infinite Boston” is thorough and artfully done — well worth exploring for anyone who loves Infinite Jest, or is currently working their way through it. The project also had a number of spinoffs, including the super cool, Google-maps enabled “Infinite Atlas” and some other cool stuff available for sale at the Infinite Shop.

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The first few weeks of July were pretty good — but the end of July illustrated the scope of what was happening in YODFW. On the 19th, CNN ran an online story about porn stars using Twitter to gain mainstream fame. One of the stars the mentioned was Kayden Kross, upon whom they bestowed the title “The Smartest Woman in Porn” and mentioned: “She often tweets about her favorite authors, David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo.” Four days later, the Wall Street Journal reported on a past meeting between DFW and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The two men had lunch and bonded over their shared enjoyment and rigor over language and grammar. Apparently the meeting led to some book Scalia wrote, which is not important. What is important is that, within the space of a few days, we could read about how a porn star and an arch-conservative Supreme Court justice both have strong affinities for our man.


FA IJ Circle

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Year of DFW Tiles
David Foster Wallace would have had his 50th birthday on February 21, 2012. If he had lived, and maintained the course he was on, he probably would have been the subject of articles about “David Foster Wallace at 50,” “Boy Genius Grows Up,” etc, covering important topics like his shorter haircut, his apparently happy marriage, and his steady teaching job. If Wallace had let The Pale King see the light of day by now, you can bet we would be reading reviews about the “mature” and “grown up” successor to the kinetic Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace Moves to the Suburbs. Instead, 2012 passed without much notice of the milestone, which four years after his death only serves to remind us that Wallace didn’t live to see it.

But it turns out that the world was not at all silent on the matter of David Foster Wallace this year. In the last 12 months, Wallace was the subject of three books, and author of one posthumous collection of essays. This level of attention is significant in and of itself, but it was not all that happened — not by a long shot. Over the year there came a steady flow of news, blog posts and small insights. There were stage adaptations, a Pulitzer controversy, displays of affection from a porn star and a Supreme Court Justice, and references in TV shows, a commercial, a web video and a proper movie. There was a conference and a year-end fundraiser and an unfortunate moment of our present looking too much like Wallace’s near-future dystopia. The internet – which, it was revealed this year, Wallace once referred to as “the bathroom wall of the U.S. psyche” – would not stop saying his name* Four years after his death, David Foster Wallace is on our minds more than ever.

Some of this was foreordained. There is now an annual cycle, starting mid-May and running through June, of pieces referring to Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon University commencement address. His remarks have become a standard against which the hot speeches of the season are measured, and the address tends to show up on Best Speeches lists and be offered as wisdom that the Class of 20-whatever should take to heart.

A similar phenomenon took place with the 2012 Republican primary and presidential election. Wallace’s John McCain piece “Up Simba” (or any of the various names it was published under in magazine and book and anthology forms) became relevant again, and was often cited as the kind of meaningful political journalism we long for in today’s sorry-ass punditocracy.

But four books and a few recurring occasions do not a YEAR OF make. Most of what happened took place independent of annual or quadrennial events, spontaneously, a result of whatever weird energy was flowing in 2012. It was an event that was both random and regularized that sealed it for me. In early July – just as I was beginning to think that “Boy, I am really hearing a lot about David Foster Wallace this year” – Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 7th Wimbledon. Writers, journalists, bloggers and WordPressers across print and online media launched a thousand pieces with some variation of, “The late author David Foster Wallace once called Roger Federer…etc.” and Google alerts lit up my inbox like a DFW-themed Christmas tree. That was when I knew. Welcome to YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE.

FA IJ Circle

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The Young Folks

Our second contributor, Andra Belknap, continues the Dave Eggers theme with her thoughts on his breakout book.

— Mike


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
White Person, Mid-Twenties, Tells Why She Loves Dave Eggers and Found A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to be Moving and Illuminating
Status: Available

I INTENDED TO WRITE ABOUT “A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS” (AHWOSG) A FULL WEEK AGO. My progress was derailed by a search through the book for my favorite passages, during which I reread the book for the second time.

Eggers addresses many of the criticisms of his memoir before the story begins, in his “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book”, preface, lengthy acknowledgements and table of contents. He advises his readers that, “… you may want to skip much of the middle, namely pages 239-351, which concern the lives of people in their early twenties, and those lives are very difficult to make interesting, even when they seemed interesting to those living them at the time.” This section is indeed the least interesting of the book. Interestingly, (tellingly) it is also the section that reminds me most of my own existence. Moving on. In the acknowledgements he, “acknowledge[s] your problems with the title. He too has reservations.” He shares that he did consider other titles, among them “A Heartbreaking Work of Death and Embarrassment”, “An Astounding Work of Courage and Strength” and “Old and Black in America”. His publisher discarded all but “AHWOSG.”

Eggers tells the story of his parents’ deaths, only six weeks apart, and how he came to have custody of his younger brother, Toph, at age 22. He reveals what many would guard as secrets – his father’s addiction issues, his failure to give his parents a proper burial, his ambivalence about sharing his story and his feeling that his is a story that’s meant to be told. The final product, I believe, is difficult not to relate to.

It’s interesting to think about how a biography of Eggers in his early twenties would read. It would certainly be much different than his memoir. Much of “AHWOSG” never actually happens in the discernible world, the most compelling action takes place in Mr. Eggers’s head. This is a memoir in which characters come back from the dead. Characters gain the ability to fly. In one imagined scene, Eggers and Toph jump out of Eggers’s Civic before it crashes into the ocean, and swan dive perfectly, safely, into the sea. His friends and family (and this is my favorite device) occasionally break character and speak to Eggers about their place in the story. During a scene where Eggers visits John in his hospital bed, a (then-sedated) friend who attempted suicide, the fictional John wakes up and confronts Eggers: “Screw it, I’m not going to be a fucking anecdote in your stupid book… Find someone else to be symbolic of, you know, wasted youth or whatever.”

Eggers’s voice, with his imaginative, wild writing, is striking. It feels real. “AHWOSG” is the only book I’ve ever read where I feel as though I recognize the author’s voice as the one I occasionally hear in my head. He writes what it is to be young and feel the freedom, the burden, of endless possibilities. He believes that he is meant to do extraordinary things. “We have to. It would be absurd not to.” But he can’t decide what those extraordinary things are, how exactly he will go about changing the world. Life is beautiful in its possibilities and boring in its day-to-day monotonies. Eggers is desperate to show someone, anyone, that his emotional experiences are real and scary, beautiful and noteworthy and he’s willing to do anything as long as he can be recognized for what he really, truly is. He longs to be known and at the same time fears that his peers will think of him as something “other,” as some kind of monster. Eggers is both energized and terrified; his prose reflects overwhelming feelings of exhilaration and crippling anxiety – “the constant red/black worry”. It’s an extraordinary piece of writing.

And I understand the criticisms of this work, that Eggers is an egomaniac and his writing is self-serving…

And perhaps it is. But we’re all self-obsessed (see: here). Ours are the realist experiences we’ll ever know. And reading Eggers’s vivid portrait of himself as a young adult (don’t worry, this is not intended as a Joyce reference) reminds me at least that I’m not alone. Judging from the book’s popularity, I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

Andra Belknap is a writer in Washingon, DC.

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