A friend of this column rightly points out that we have written about Dave Eggers before (The Nightstand, "Supernova," Aug. 22), but we feel that (1) we already have enough friends and could stand to alienate a few; (2) Eggers' position as an author, editor/publisher, and volunteer writing tutor of incipient author geniuses constitutes a force in the book world tremendous enough to merit two columns in two months (even if they are fecklessly written and arrive at widely divergent conclusions); and (3) we have not said all that we mean to say, and perhaps did not really mean all the really mean things we have said, and so we wish, this week, to reconsider, revise, redress ourself for our previous determinations. (Full disclosure: We somehow ended up sharing a cab ride with Dave—as we now refer to him—last week, during which we enjoyed some delicious gum together, and we just feel differently now.)
Eggers was in town to read from You Shall Know Our Velocity, the long-awaited successor to, as it is officially abbreviated, A.H.W.O.S.G. At the time of our last writing, nobody knew anything about Y.S.K.O.V. (McSweeney's did not print advance copies for book reviewers), except that it had been excerpted in The New Yorker and disguised as a short story that we deemed to be "monotonous, plodding, and unreadable." (We tend to be vituperative.) We further convicted Eggers of "authorial smuggery" and predicted a critical backlash.
But if you went to the readings last week, you too might have been charmed. To Elliott Bay, he brought with him a dozen students from the Hutch School for school-aged cancer patients and family members of patients—who had, earlier in the day, under Eggers' tutorship, tried their hand at a writing exercise (emulating a Jamaica Kincaid short story). Before Eggers read from his book, he read the kids' work.
At home in San Francisco, Eggers tutors high-schoolers on a drop-in basis at 826 Valencia (www.826valencia.com)—a space that shares its home with the editorial offices of McSweeney's and a pirate supply store that covers the rent. "We sell merchandise to the trade, for the working pirate," Eggers said: planks by the foot, peg legs, and lard.
Unlike his first book, which, with its fits and starts and self-effacing prefaces, took about 70 larded pages simply to get under way, Y.S.K.O.V begins, literally, on the cover. Like everything else produced by McSweeney's Publishing, this book, printed in Reykjavik, Iceland, is something on the order of a piece of art.
On his previous trip through University Book Store, years ago, Eggers put the store's events director, Kim Ricketts, on the spot by asking her to arrange, at the last minute and apropos of nothing, a slide show presentation on whales.
This time, though, he just read. And took questions. And drew pictures of rocks and puffy shapes on the books he signed. And in a way, the Nightstand missed the old mischief.
Though we still don't know if the book is any good. (We're a slow reader.) Someone in the audience told Eggers she was almost finished reading it. "Does it make sense?" Eggers asked her.
"Mostly," the woman told him.
"Good," he said. "That'll be the blurb on the back: 'Mostly makes sense.'"