It was the “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book” that
got me. I mean, I’d been fully intending to leave the bookstore—for
once—without buying anything. But then I opened the cover of AHWOSG
(as the author lovingly abbreviates it) and read the first rule, which starts:
“There is no overwhelming need to read the preface. Really. It exists mostly
for the author, and those who, after finishing the rest of the book, have for
some reason found themselves with nothing else to read. If you have already
read the preface, and wish you had not, we apologize…”
Having read that beginning, I knew I had to buy the book. This was my kind
of humor: dry, quirky, intelligent, and overly analytical. The kind of Monty-Python-esque
humor I could relate
to. I guessed immediately that I would enjoy this one.
And I did enjoy the book. True, there’s a bit less humor after the 45
pages (that’s right, 45 pages) of front matter: the “Rules,”
then the preface (in which, much like a bonus feature on a DVD, the author actually
includes edited-out paragraphs), and the acknowledgements (in which the author
acknowledges, among other things, how much he was paid for the book and that
he never finished college). But the 437 pages of the actual memoir are definitely
worth reading as well. As the author explains in the front matter, the story
is endlessly self-conscious and a little uneven, but it’s also lyrical,
fresh, and smart. And, well, it’s a bit staggering and heartbreaking, too.
Eggers (who founded the journal McSweeney’s), tells his story, which is that
of a young man whose parents died of cancer when he was 21 and thereafter—with
some help from his older brother and sister—moved from Chicago to San Francisco
and raised his 8-year-old brother while founding a magazine and trying to get
on MTV’s The Real World. The story is interesting, but the
mode of telling it is the greater attraction.
The book is quite confessional. The author certainly tells his thoughts and feelings, from grief to humor, anger to release and
guilt, in a refreshingly, sometimes shockingly, honest fashion. The author
gets away with his grandiosity by being simultaneously self-deprecating. He
knows just what his limitations are—he tells you about them, actually—and
then he stops just on the brink of pushing them too far.
This memoir has become my new “make-everyone-I-know-that-wouldn’t-be-offended-by-some-profanity-read-this”
book. I’m glad I didn’t leave the bookstore empty-handed.