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Two Great Books By Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers is an author everyone should try.  Some people can’t stand anything he does, but I am not one of them.  Anyone that can’t see beauty in at least parts of Eggers’s work ain’t breathing.  I’ve been a fan from the first page of A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius.

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius


Best title of all time

A lot of people I know would agree that there’s only one word to describe this book.  But I don’t think any of them would choose the same word.  For myself, I pick “moving.”  It moved me as a writer because I know how difficult writing can be.  And Eggers is a writer’s writer.  But that’s doesn’t mean it isn’t accessible. I know more writing snobs who hate this book than “normal” people who read for fun.

It moved me as a brother because I have a little brother.  And it moved me as a person because that’s what happens when you read a book about a twenty-two year old who loses his parents to cancer and becomes the guardian of an eight year old.

Basically, AHWOSG is a big raggedy monster of an autobiography that has moments so good that the pages that aren’t as great don’t even seem to matter.  And it’s funny!  Oh man, it is funny.

What Is The What?  The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng

what is the what cover

All proceeds go to Achak's Foundation

What Is The What? is not about Dave Eggers, but  is a novelized autobiography that he wrote.  Eggers collaborated with Achak Deng, a survivor of the Darfur genocide, to write this gigantic story about Deng’s flight from the Sudan to America.  Once in the United States, Deng becomes disillusioned with his new life.

The story begins with a robbery.  It continues in present-day American with flashbacks to the wars in Africa.  If you are not moved by the stories about the Lost Boys of the Sudan walking across the deserts in groups as lions pick them off and starvation and thirst drive them crazy, you’re not alive.

As hard to comprehend is some of the treatment Deng receives in America.  It is a sickening experience to see the man who has escaped the horrors of the genocide becoming nostalgic for the country he fled.

I’m a naive little man in Utah who has no idea what so many like Achak Deng have experienced.  What Is The What? may very well be as close to a genocide as I’ll ever get.  And it was enough.

The answer to the question, “What is the what?” is one of the most brilliant, powerful things that’s out there in literature.  This book changed me as much as a book can change anyone.

Achak Deng’s foundation is involved in wonderful, important work.   All proceeds from What Is The What? go to the cause.

PS: If anyone else is interested, Dave Eggers has a new book out.  I’m about halfway through Zeitoun and think it’s his best yet.

Who’s read Eggers and who’s going to?  Let’s talk in the comments.


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey August 26, 2009, 7:10 am

    So wait, is AHWOSG an autobiography, or is it about someone else?

    I haven’t read the WITW, but I’ve been told that if you read one book about the lost boys, then that is the one.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 26, 2009, 7:15 am

      It’s an autobiography. What is the What is a novelized autobiography that Eggers wrote with the subject Deng, it’s just about someone else, if that makes any sense.

  • Casey August 26, 2009, 8:23 am

    Maybe I’m wrong but isn’t an autobiography about one’s self?
    Doesn’t that make What is the What just a biography?

    • Josh Hanagarne August 26, 2009, 9:16 am

      Casey, it’s written in first person and “autobiography” is in the title. I think you might be right, but if you read it, it feels real. It feels like you’re listening to Deng, not Eggers.

  • Lori August 26, 2009, 11:27 am

    Hi Josh!

    Thanks for introducing me to Dave Eggers. What is the What? will go onto my 10 top next reads – it looks like just what I’ve been trying to find.

    I cant tell I’ll like him b/c I tend to like things that, “some people can’t stand…”

    Bring it on Eggers! Thanks for the tip, Josh. Also, thanks for your previous post – awesome stuff! I’ll be back!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 26, 2009, 11:44 am

      Lori, thanks. Please let me know what you think when you read something of Dave’s.

  • Positively Present August 26, 2009, 1:59 pm

    These are two of my favorite books EVER. They are both amazing and anyone who hasn’t read them should definitely pick up copies ASAP! :0

  • Leah August 26, 2009, 3:44 pm

    Okay, now I’ll go get WITW, since I loved AHWOSG so much– you talked me into it!

    I blogged yesterday about what President Obama’s taking on vacation to read! Hope you’ll check it out at http://www.funnyisthenewyoung.com.

    Reading– it’s what it’s all about!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 26, 2009, 4:03 pm

      Leah, I’ll go check it out. Let us know how you react to WITH.