Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Disappointment: Eggers, Vowell, and Lethem

Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Sometimes you can read a book and just be completely blown away. When you turn the final page you just have to find more of this author's work, it's that good. This happened when I read Dave Eggers' memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It was creative, fresh, funny, heartbreaking, beautiful, entirely original, and Eggers used the entire book (and I really mean that, he even re-wrote that page that has the publisher's information). It was so good that I bought the limited edition hardcover of his first novel that was originally only available in smaller, independent bookstores: You Shall Know Our Velocity. I couldn't have been more disappointed. Eggers is doing some great things in writing, but he seems to be best as an editor or a guiding force as he is with McSweeney's and as an editor of the Best American Non-Required Reading series. I just recently read his collection of short stories How We Are Hungry, and once again I feel let down. His fiction just seems to be missing that spark that he put into his memoir. Once again, though, take a look at Eggers as an editor of Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans. It's often funny and creative and fresh.

Next up is Sarah Vowell. Vowell may be best known to most people as the voice of Violet in The Incredibles. She's also an editor on This American Life on NPR, and she has written several books. The first book of hers that I read was The Partly Cloudy Patriot, a collection of humorous but pointed essays about America and patriotism and what it all means to her. Good stuff. She's also one of my favorite guests on Conan (and even Letterman, but she has a better connection with Conan), so much so that I'll record the episode on the DVR if she's on just in case it is a new one. But I read her previous book Take the Cannoli and didn't feel the same connection or interest. I recently finished her latest book Assassination Vacation, which deals with her vacations/trips to visit historical sites relating to presidential assassinations (and she goes to any site no matter how remote a connection). It's an interesting concept and most of the time she pulls it off, but overall the book just didn't pull me in like The Partly Cloudy Patriot.

The final author I want to mention is Jonathan Lethem. His fiction hasn't disappointed. While I wasn't blown away by Motherless Brooklyn his ventures into a different sort of science fiction (one which has found its way to be catalogued on the "Literature" shelf at the book store, I've loved his other stuff like Gun, With Occasional Music, and As She Climbed Across the Table. My disappointment here is when I booked up a book of his essays. This week I read The Disappointment Artist and was underwhelmed. But I think it takes something different in an essay to reach me. Still, his collection of short fiction Men and Cartoons was great as was his most recent novel The Fortress of Solitude.

I guess the moral is to be careful of what you read when you get excited by a fresh voice you're finding in an author. It may not all be golden. Here, though, Lethem is by far the best if you stick with his fiction.


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