More recently, Dave Eggers has created a foundation to teach literature to underpriveledged children in San Francisco, 826 Valencia, named after its address. His second novel, the less autobiographical You Shall Know Our Velocity has been published by McSweeney's, to critical acclaim.
(The preceding was a shameless attempt to justify the noding of the following more personal information. There actually is a good amount of information about Dave Eggers in what follows, however, so read on.)
Apparently, Dave Eggers is frequently gracious enough to accept the invitations extended to him by the various high school and college courses teaching his book. It was on one such occassion that I had the good fortune to meet Dave Eggers. A friend of mine, taking a class at UC Berkeley, asks me, "Have you read Dave Eggers? He's coming to visit my class." As Dave Eggers is to me what *NSync is to a prepubescent schoolgirl, I could be forgiven for screaming, "DAVE FUCKING EGGERS?!?!"
He invited me to come to the class.
The day of the visit, the classroom was fairly crowded. A number of my students had, like my friend, brought guests. Before his arrival we sat around and discussed the book. The teacher and a number of the more pompous students were considering a theory that Eggers used humor as a tool to help deal with the pain of grief, and an even more pretentious theory that the drawing of the stapler at the beginning of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius encapsulated the book in a nutshell; "...It represents human attempts to resist entropy! To hold the family together in the face of chaos!"
Finally, Eggers arrived. He was casually dressed and resembled a slightly older version of the man in the jacket photo of AHWOSG. He is also, I am told by female members of the class, "cuter in real life."
Eggers the person is much like one would expect from reading about Eggers the character. He is wry, self-deprecating, honest, and not above the occassional profanity. He derided - very gently - the idea of humor as a armor against grief, saying, "Maybe true, but that's very Psych 101 isn't it?" He revealed the story behind his addition and subsequent removal of the appendix from later paperback editions of AHWOSG. "The critics - they're stupid assholes... dickheads, really, and I was disturbed by how much they were getting wrong. For example, the New York Times had a piece on how the last chapter of the book was a parody of James Joyce's Ulysses. This was something that was very difficult for me to write, that took a lot of emotional investment, and they've reduced it to a satire, and people will believe them, because they read it in the Times and it's authoritative. So I was very angry and I wrote the appendix in, like, a day, and I sent it off to the publisher and it was published. And afterwards it was like an angry letter that I wish I hadn't written, so I had it taken out. Although I think I may have it put back in, in a revised form, because people who don't have it think they're getting less of a book."
Some other interesting excerpts from the discussion:
"In You Shall Know Our Velocity, the book starts right on the cover, there's no cover page or copyright information or any of that. We asked a lawyer and it turns out you don't need any of that. Who knows what that stuff is anyway? I mean all the Library of Congress stuff and the 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 thing, what is that? You know, when we used to think that we needed that, sometimes we would just take a book from a big publisher, and copy their copyright page and just stick it in our book, without any idea what it was for."
"Toph never actually felt too much of the attention, actually, because he is so much younger and not that many people that he's around will know about the book. There's always a few people that do... at parties, there'll be one girl who's read the book, and he has this one friend who'll always use that as his line, or something."
We finally ask him about the whole stapler-as-metaphor-for-attempts-to-create-stability-and-order thing, and to the teacher's dismay, he reveals, "It's just a picture of a stapler. I just drew a picture of a stapler and thought it looked really good, so I stuck it in. I originally was going to draw a polar bear, but the stapler looked better." The teacher, trying to recover some status, asked weakly, "Maybe subconsciously?" to which Dave (will He mind if I call Him Dave?) responded, "Sure, maybe." Ever wish you could meet Shakespeare just so you could find out for sure if Hamlet had an Oedipus complex or not? This was better, because I got to see the expressions on the faces of the silly over-analyzers.
I have, as a memento of my hour with Dave, his signature in my copy of AHWOSG. "Darrell," it reads in big red letters ("Do you ever get in fights with the -yl people?" he quips. Oh, he is deliriously witty, and he spared a witticism for me, oh, oh!) "my left: (and here there is a drawing of his left hand) - Dave Eggers." I tried to fathom the deep and mysterious meaning behind the doodle, but remembering the matter of the stapler, wisely have since ceased my probing.