One of my favourite books is Dave Eggar’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I discovered it through part of my reading list for the ‘examination of the self’ autobiographical unit at University that formed part of my literature degree and fell head over heels with it. When I tell people who haven’t read it, they have never heard of Dave Eggars and when I tell people who have read it, they’re surprised that it has managed to make the lofty journey to be regarded as a favourite.
The plotline isn’t one of beauty or wonder: Eggars tells the story of his life and what was essentially the loss of his childhood, as some 8 pages in, we watch him lose both his parents to cancer within thirty two days of one another. It is a memoir, but one that tracks the most everyday of his everyday life, as he attempts to work out both who he is alongside the overwhelming grief he endures, coupled with his new role as guardian of his eight year old brother, Toph. It makes his extraordinary circumstances sounds rather typical.
The story is a personal journey- Eggars allows us to follow him through the mundanities of life: we see him audition for MTV’s The Real Life, which pans out abysmally, like a great deal of events do for him. The MTV representative asks,
“Why do you want to be on The Real World?
-Because I want everyone to witness my youth
-Isn’t it gorgeous?”
The book isn’t one of my favourites because of what happens, but how it is described. Eggar’s use of internal monologue is breathtaking; he depicts life in such a way that resonates, that the reader is almost too scared to admit to such a feeling themselves. He notices every naunce of what it means to be human. He confronts such oddities about human life and forces us to examine them, turning them over in our hands until we realise that they are our own oddities.
For me, this is beauty in action and more and more, I seek out a book not for its genre or content, but the narrative voice instead. It isn’t what I am reading, but who tells me the story. I look for the voices that provide plotlines like fine art, picking or discarding words to do so with the punctiliousness that a painter might take with each stroke, or a chef may take with each second of time or heat. I want to know what people think as opposed to what they do. I read for these voices, that they might make me think a little differently about the world.
What does this have to do with teaching, or education? Nothing, perhaps. Perhaps I’ve just written a poor introduction to the world of Dave Eggars for you or perhaps reading this made you think about the way that you select books, or perhaps you can now think of a multitude of blogs about the same topic that you have read, where each brings their own voice to one approach or aspect of the profession.
If you do have a thought, or a half dusty blog or three as I do, perhaps it has made you think about taking a peek at it, or maybe even finishing it off. The vibrancy that education possesses is something of incredible value and I for one, love to read for the voices.
The image was chosen because my Grandad worked in sugar cane plants whilst I was a child so I rarely saw him. Instead, he would read Portland Bill to a tape player and then post me the tapes to listen to on car journeys. I never really liked Portland Bill, but I listened to those tapes until the day they snapped.