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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 29 June 2017
Exactly as the title describes. This novel is unlike anything I had read before, it is one man's roller-coaster ride through a confounding and brutally unforgiving life. Dave Eggers manages to tell his story, though, with charm and relentless humour. This book divides people because it has such a distinctive style, and it obviously isn't for everyone, but if you like off-kilter fiction with bundles of character, then this novel will reward you time and again.
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on 3 March 2017
An interesting stream of consciousness from Egger. Very amusing and sometimes agreeably annoying. Completely unique.
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on 20 March 2015
After reading reviews I thought I found an excellent book but to be honest I could not get through it after 50 pages. Manage to read 50 more and I had to stop. The language and style just bothered me too much.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 October 2013
This book doesn't work well as an audiobook.

I was intrigued by the title, by the story - the recounting (with embellishments) of a twenty-something man who takes guardianship of his 9-year-old brother after both their parents die of cancers, just four months apart.

Eggers is clever. He uses verbal tricks and voices and styles that would have played better on paper than they did listening on CD, where sometimes they were confusing.

I did find some of the book very moving indeed. Especially the first part, as Eggers describes what it was like as his mother lay dying. Some parts though I admit I found boring and rambling. Toph, the little brother, is at times a lovely little character and at others little more than background. Though seeing Eggers as a parent struggling to get his child to school on time was amusing.

Hit and miss for me though, so a 3-star read.
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on 1 August 2001
I thought this was a wonderfully funny human account of a really tough situation. Yes, it does ramble and the structure and (lack of) editing leave something to be desired but this disjointedness i felt added to the understanding of how different dave and toph's world world was - how their life lacked the normal "structure" because of their parents deaths. I disagree with an earlier reviewer who was annoyed by the laddishness pranks and so on, but get real - aren't most people in their early 20s and bit like this, aswell as being self-indulgent with thoughts all over the place about their futures? Doubly difficult if both your parents have died and you have the very grown-up responsibility of having to bring up a young brother? I think Dave actually recognises that its all going to pot a bit towards the end hence the rebuff from toph about him being so self indulgent, aswell as the aditional explanatory notes - wonderful.
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on 2 September 2004
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the topsoil of a tragedy, the first layers of earth pushed aside in a painful personal excavation, where the treasure seems to remain deeply buried.
This first book by author Dave Eggers is a memoir. Eggers tells of the years following the deaths of both his parents - deaths which occurred within 5 weeks of one another - and how, at the age of 21, he became his younger brother Toph's guardian.
Eggers uses a highly self-conscious style of writing - confiding his fears of his own early death, terrors that something untoward will happen to his brother, or the sensations of his own flapping genitalia when running naked for a photo shoot. But his utter preoccupation with here-and-now mundanity or with imagined future horrors are but his shield against the true conscious experience of his own grief.
Although the story of AHWOSG rests upon the tragic reality of parental deaths, ironically there is no mourning. There were no burials, no gravestones, no remains to be grieved over. Soon after these deaths, Dave and Toph move from Lake Forest, IL to Berkeley. Dave nominally ensures that Toph is fed and clothed and schooled, but without embodied parental authority, "in a world with neither floor nor ceiling," the two live in semi-anarchy, enjoying the freedom to eat junk food and drive to the beach and play frisbee whenever the impulse might strike.
Unable to see logic in his parents' deaths, he sublimates his need for order and justice into the making of a magazine, Might. The mission of Might is to take "a formless and mute mass of human potential and...to mold it into a political force." This counter-cultural magazine is designed to be both provocative and empowering, but over time it becomes more shocking and in-your-face. Eggers's own rage and grief remain unresolved and become expressed editorially in Might, so much so that Toph asks him about his work "Where does anger like that come from?"
His failure to grieve his mother's death head-on is carried to his subsequent relationships with women. Girlfriends fade away inexplicably. Eggers does not react to his sister's marriage, a symbolic separation from family. The story line of the sudden, unexpected death of a minor female character dead-ends.
Eggers's failure to give us his grief directly in these pages is not a literary failure. The writing is strong and compelling. He is at his best when writing manic stream-of-consciousness passages about his fears of his mother's imminent death, his terror of having lost Toph at a hotel, his panic when accompanying a suicidal friend to the hospital. Here he is intimate and immediate, observing the profundities of possible death side by side with the ordinary details of television, of the slowness of elevators, or of the Conan O'Brien show. During these passages, one cannot read fast enough.
Throughout the book, Eggers repeatedly gives us passages wherein he and Toph toss a frisbee to one another. There is beauty and delight in keeping this little plastic disc afloat, keeping it soaring and sailing through the air. As long as the frisbee stays flying, there is hope, they are happy children, and they are immortal. This game of toss connects these brothers in a mythical mutual immortality.
Toph seems to serve as Eggers's talisman of hope, a beacon to the future where the past is too painful to confront. Beyond all the irony and self-consciousness (and looseness of the writing), AHWOSG is a wonderful book, certainly one worth picking up. Beside AHWOSG, another (much shorter, rougher) Amazon quick-pick I enjoyed is THE LOSER'S CLUB by Richard Perez.
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on 1 January 2008
There aren't many books that warrant five stars, I believe, and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is definitely one of them.

One of the reviewers here (amazon us) mentioned that one must be in his or her twenties to appreciate this book-- and, he added-- if one is over 30, he or she would dislike it. I have to disagree. As a woman in my late thirties, whose life couldn't be more different than Dave Eggers', I found this book to be excellent-- excruciatingly honest and a most poignant memoir.

One can't help but feel for what the Eggers family goes through. The reader cheers and cries from the sidelines. I was surprised at the vehemence of my emotions when reading this. Dave Eggers certainly drew me in to his and his family's life, and there were so many times that, as a parent, I wanted to find them all and parent them myself.

I would recommend this book, wholeheartedly, to everyone. People have compared Eggers to David Sedaris. As much as I enjoyed the one Sedaris book I read, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, I would put Eggers' book on another plane entirely. Sedaris' life is also interesting, but Dave Eggers is clearly a better writer and more honest with his emotions.
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on 7 April 2002
Like marmite you either love this book or you hate it and i am pleased to say that i adored it, from the first page to the last it was an absorbing, funny, tragic and wonderful book. I loved the rambling, unedited text and highly recommend it. i do agree with the earlier reviewers who said that reading the end bit (mistakes we knew we were making) did help to put the rest of the book into perspective...
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on 14 February 2001
I disagree with the other reviewers - I thought this book more than lived up to the hype - unlike some other books, like 'White Teeth' - how did that win the Guardian First Novel over this? This book is a hundred times better - it utterly lives up to its title.
I've never quite read a book structured like this before - the acknowledgements themselves, as long as they are, had me in hysterics and their lightness was a brilliant contrast to the actual 'book' which within 3 pages had me nearly in tears. It's one of those literary novels which is accessible and even better funny. And the word 'post modern' does apply but, (and this must be a record) it manages to do that too without being pretentious. It's utterly readable and disgestible and will you have flicking pages. There are passages of wonderful comedy and passages of raw emotion that punches you in the gut. Amazing, quite unusual and deserves to be a big bestseller.
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on 14 May 2001
Ok, so I agree in parts with the more negative reviews. This book is very self-involved, at times self pitying, ranting, rambling, annoying even. But take a step back: you don't have to love the main character to love the book. I'm sure I would throttle Dave Eggers if I had to live with him. But I don't, and his book is, if not genius, then original, poetic, touching, real and very funny. Tolerate Eggers' more "self devouring" moments and enjoy the book. You may dislike the author by the end, but this book will stir you to laugh or just think, nonetheless.
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