Dave Eggers' book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was one of those books that kept floating around in conversation. The title has a way of catching that sticky spot on your brain that doesn't fully retain information but doesn't entirely let it go, either. For awhile, I continuously confused this book with The Unbearable Lightness of Being -- for some reason, the titles sound the same to me. After reading the latter, I called my friend to ask her why she was such a fan of the book, and she fully began describing the former. Awesome.
So years, literally years, later, a friend of mine dropped A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius into my hands, saying, "I just finished it. Give it a go." Given its sticky-status, I thought I should finally just get the damn book out of my system already.
The premise: Dave and his brothers and sister survive the terrible loss of both of their parents to cancer in the space of about 5 weeks. One death was expected, the other was quite sudden. Suddenly, alongside dealing with the technicalities of their parents' deaths as well as their personal grief, Dave and his two older siblings find themselves legally responsible for their seven-year-old brother Toph. The majority of the child-rearing falls on Dave's 21-year-old shoulders, and this book is the autobiographical story of the two brothers' life together.
There were parts of this book that were absolutely riveting. I would call them the first 100 pages. And then the rest of the book was very, very longwinded. And this is coming from somebody who she herself is very long-winded, so just trust me when I say it's long-winded. 437 pages of long-winded (Note: In the preface, Eggers himself mentions that the best part of the book is in the first 100 pages, curiously enough).
Sure, it's heartbreaking. It is. I just don't know so much about the staggering genius part.
Still, there was something about this book that kept me reading. Well, ok, skimming. I brought it with me everywhere I went, and pulled it out whenever I had a 2-or-more-minute wait for a train/bus. I even looked forward to transporation time because it meant reading time, and hey! That must mean I liked the book, right?
Except I didn't, really. I found it sort of tiresome. And I'm apparently in the minority here, because the book was a #1 bestseller. But so was A Million Little Pieces, and I found that book tiring in the exact same way, although Eggers is clearly a more talented writer than James Frey.
If you're curious, I copied one sentence out of the book for illustrative purposes. It's about Dave and Toph "meeting" President Clinton:
Do you see what I mean? About the tiresomeness? And the I-could-skim-this-ness?
But, if you're still confusing the book with The Unbearable Lightness of Being maybe you should buy it anyway: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Or, maybe you should read it again if you're one of the other millions and millions of people who have bought this book and enjoyed it.
The selection at the Frankfurt airport was an enticing array of New York Times Bestsellers, but I can't exactly say what posessed me to select The Tipping Point over, say, a Nora Roberts novel. I think it might have something to do with having grabbed the book and, at random, opening the page to a fascinating tale of how "Sesame Street" came to be. I read three pages standing there in the store, and then decided to fork over the eight euros for the whole book.
I am glad I did. The book made the plane ride fly (!) by, and was an amusing read that I still think of at random moments even now, several weeks later.
The Tipping Point is Malcolm Gladwell's book on "how little things can make a big difference." While the book claims to analyse how unpopular items such as Hush Puppies can become overnight sensations, how New York city can go from having tons of crime to far less in just a few years, or how Gold Box advertising really changes things, I had a hard time stringing together the entire book into a cohesive, nicely-wrapped package. Still, I enjoyed all the bits and pieces.
Technically, it's a book about phenomena, and how things just sort of happen. It's about how things can just be very BLAH, and then suddenly, sometimes without explanation, there's a "tipping point" that makes everything change radically and quickly.
While that's an interesting concept in and of itself, I get the feeling that Gladwell is just a data geek like myself, and he really wanted to put a bunch of cool things he had researched together in a book. So he did. And it sort of works, actually. But I preferred to retain all of the little factoids independently, instead of worrying about the overall picture (which is pretty easy to grasp: crazy things happen).
I read this book really quickly and found myself wanting to underline it frequently. It reads VERY easily, but is filled of interesting things you probably didn't know. Gladwell describes the types of people who set the machines needed for any given phenomenon to be set into motion. He sets the stage for said phenomena. And then he gives a bunch of examples.
It's entertaining, well-written, and a pleasant little read. Keep in mind: it's bestselling non-fiction, so don't expect a super-academic text or Noam Chomsky. Still, it's good, entertaining, quirky, and mighty interesting.
Read it: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell