Every English teacher's dream is to teach their favorite piece of literature to students who can intelligently discuss the work. For me, that happened this fall. Over the summer, my former principal read, loved, and approved my absolute favorite book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. While reading the novel with my juniors, I actually had one parent accuse me about how I was teaching their children that "premarital sex was permissible" and that students should adopt the attitude "not to take life seriously." (Yup, that was Shakespeare's intention about sex and life as well.) Clearly, that's not what Dave Eggers' exaggerated piece of non-fiction is about.
I first read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in my mid-twenties when it seemed like everything was difficult and oftentimes too overwhelming to grasp: a career I wanted to love, true relationships (romantic or otherwise) I wanted to foster in order to remain a healthy individual, and a wanting to keep family traditions close despite personal moral arguments with a religious childhood upbringing. This memoir resonated. When I was 19, my older brother died of a drug overdose when he was 26. It was shocking, and unexpected, and you don’t really know how to ever recover except to fake it, and ask questions, and hope the answers are somewhere, and that there is good (a lesson perhaps? for whom?) through it all.
Dave Eggers struggles with similar concepts in this coming-of-age memoir while raising his younger brother in San Francisco after his parents’ death in Chicago. Within 2 weeks time, 21-year-old Eggers loses both of his parents and is left to raise his 8-year-old younger brother. The narrative is often off-topic and witty with an outstandingly sad undertone filled the enormity of what Eggers is left to deal with at his age. There's often a mocking tone thanks to the taboo topic that everyone faces in their life: death.
In one part, Eggers actually convinces Adam Rich, former child actor of the TV show Eight Is Enough, to hoax is own death. Eggers is also an excellent authority to represent his generation. There's one point where Eggers exaggerates an interview for The Real World - San Francisco (yes, the one with Puck) because he wants to be a proper generational influence.
“Why do you want to be on The Real World?
-Because I want everyone to witness my youth
-Isn't it gorgeous?”
Heartbreaking is engrossing, charming, and cut with Eggers' one-of-a-kind wit and heart. I'm left hoping that a voice for my generation will be as brilliant, witty, humorous, and on-point as Eggers. Overall, teaching Heartbreaking was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. In commemoration, I even had the dedication tattooed on the left side of my ribs. The dedication goes—“First of all: I am tired. I am true of heart! Second of all: You are tired. You are true of heart!”
I hope you'll get the chance to laugh and be inspired by this read as I am.
What's your favorite read?