"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
In four days it will be one year since my father-in-law died in an accidental shooting. He had recently turned 60 and recently celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary. In 18 days it will be four years since my older brother died suddenly in a black hawk crash in Germany. He was closing in on his 40th birthday. He was preparing to land.
I had two father-figures in my life. I also had two brothers. I lost one of each pair suddenly - dramatically. I've watched my wife struggle with the loss of her father. I've watched my mother-in-law struggle with the sad death and absence of her husband. I've watched my sister-in-law and her kids struggle with the death of their husband and father. I've watched my parents, my siblings. I have grieved much myself for these two good men.
I was reading when they died. I know this. When my father-in-law died I was reading 'Falconer'. When my brother died I was reading 'This Is Water'. After their deaths I couldn't read for weeks, and struggled with reading for months. I was in prison. I was drowning in a water I could neither see nor understand.
Reading Didion's sharp, sometimes funny, but always clear and precise take on her husband's death and her daughter's illness ... my experience is reflected. Not exactly. I'm no Joan Didion and my relationship with both my father-in-law and my brother are mine. However, Didion captures in the net of her prose the essence of grief, tragedy, loss, coping, remembering. He memoir makes me wonder how it is even possible that someone could both feel a semblance of what I feel and capture all the sad glitters, glints and mudgyness of mourning at the same time. It takes a helluva writer.
There are parts of this book I absolutely loved. There are also parts of it I definitely hated. I think Eggers' talent is obvious, his playfulness kinetic, his abilility to make his own grief/history both gruesome and beautiful by basically eating every experience and person surrounding him (disposal of his mom's ashes is a good example). Eventually his thinking about the thinking and thinking about the thinking about thinking kinda drove me a little nuts.
I do want to distinguish my own discomfort with this early Dave Eggers book from the current jealous-hipster backlash against Eggers. Yes, my hipster MFA people, Eggesr isn't Henry James, certainly, but still he manages to subvert the artificial separation between fiction and memoirs in aHWofSG. So, just admit that part of your animosity towards this book is that you didn't think of it, write it, or end up actually being able to make a living/achieve fame from a book you wrote in your twenties (same feelings that bubbles up whenever a Foer brother publishes something)
I'm also glad I waited to read/listen to this until Eggers had proven through McSweeney's, and his more recent books of nonfiction and fiction, that he wasnt just a gimmicky one-hit-wonder.
Oh, and Dion Graham's read of aHWofSG was kindof amazing.
I've been circling this book, 'The Feynman Lectures on Physics', and Gleck's 'Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman' for awhile. This one seemed the most fun and easiest place to start. I was driving from Taos/Santa Fe back to Phoenix last week and as I drove past Los Alamos, it was just the particle collision in my brain I needed to start on Feynman.
Often, memoirs are hard to read because you know a bunch of it is façade. A person is showing you a part of them for a purpose. They want to be viewed as smart, important, funny, etc. They carefully guide you through a Potemkin village of their life. Richard Feynman's memoir is different. Not that I don't think Feynman had an ego. He might have even had an agenda with the book. But, for the most part, he seemed much more interested in the stories he wanted to tell, rather than on how they would make him look. He wasn't all that worried about how he looked so much. His entire life was built around doing what he wanted, exploring what he found interesting, violating taboos, beating his own drums and cutting his own path.
He was a Nobel-prize winning polymath physicist whose other talents included playing drums, teaching, drawing naked girls, picking locks, making atomic bombs, practical jokes, and telling stories. He wasn't interested in the usual trappings of success. Many of those things annoyed him. He was curious. He was a risk-taker. He was a genius.