What Dave Eggers is up to

posted by Jason Kottke Aug 06, 2002

The New Yorker has an interview with Dave Eggers about his upcoming book (fiction this time). Here's an excerpt about San Francisco:

"Living in the Bay Area, you're faced with more homelessness than probably any other place in America. So you have to be ready to deal with their plight all the time, and you have to make dozens of decisions each day about who to give money to and who not to. That's a lot of pressure, every day, and sometimes ten times a block, if you're walking down, say, Haight, or lower Geary. And you really do make these decisions in the most random ways."

Eggers is also editing the upcoming The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2002. The publisher describes the book as "a selection for young people of the best literature from mainstream and alternative American periodicals: from The New Yorker to Jane, Rolling Stone to The Onion, Vibe to various magazines, zines, and journals that, if you're over thirty, you've never heard of." I wonder if the book will include any writing from the Internet? (Probably not...I've got half a mind to pitch a Best Online Writing 2002 book to Houghton Mifflin. There's a lot of online-only writing that deserves a wider audience.)

Reader comments

ErikaAug 06, 2002 at 12:26PM

And, FYI, if anyone wants to hang out with M. Eggers and Mark Eitzel, there's a benefit for 826 Valencia, Dave's student writing workshop and pirate supply store, tomorrow night at Gallery Lux

AmyAug 06, 2002 at 12:47PM

I'm surprised that no one's published a Best Online writing anthology, although by publishing it in book form, of course, it's no longer online writing (or only online writing, or whatever). Judging by a post a few days ago, you'd probably exclude Andrew Sullivan if you were the editor, which would probably piss him off and drive him to publish something along the lines of a "Better than the Best Online Writing" book with -- yeah -- only his writing.

jkottkeAug 06, 2002 at 1:09PM

you'd probably exclude Andrew Sullivan if you were the editor

I would probably exclude most material from weblogs. The well-written, coherent, complete weblog post is not a common thing.

A Best Online Writing book would be tough to compile. With other books in the series, there's usually a theme or medium that anchors each book: sports writing, short stories, writing in magazines, etc. The pieces that would appear in the online writing book would have to be differentiated somehow by their "onlineness"...the sort of writing that appears online but not (for whatever reason) in books, zines, or magazines. And then there's the problem of representing hyperlinks in print...

KeithAug 06, 2002 at 1:38PM

I know some of it is online-only... a story of mine somehow got picked for inclusion, and it originally ran in the online-only version of McSweeney's. But that's not really saying much about how much effort might or might not have gone into looking at other online stuff, since the web version of McSweeney's is pretty much Eggers' back yard.

Jason WallAug 06, 2002 at 1:38PM

To be honest.... I completely agree. Most web content is pointless. Not that it isn't important to the publisher, just perhaps not important to most other people. I would have to admit that only a few of the posts I've published since blogging back in feb are good enough to stand on their own two feet, and be interesting reading for most anyone.

I like the idea of an anthology of the best online writing though. There's a lot of promising and incitefull work, if you can find it.

I'd love to contribute, if the opportunity comes up.

Azrael BrownAug 06, 2002 at 1:56PM

Form vs Function: blogs exist due to their format, which is non-paper, non-ink, and openly accessible to both readers and writers. If everyone who had a blog could coherently organize a couple thousand words, there'd be a lot more published works in the years prior to the blog phenomenon. Plus, publishable writing pays better than blogging...

EdAug 06, 2002 at 2:28PM

Yup, lots of pressure for Dave Eggers, what with growing up affluent in a Chicago suburb, getting something close to $3 million for book and film advances (and that's not counting the royalties), being declared a "philanthropist," getting a giant spread in The Chronicle and other pubs (including The New Yorker!) with nary a whit of criticism over Eggers OR 826 Valencia (more ink conveniently blocking out the very real problems of homelessness, crooked SF politics and other pressing issues of the day that deserve a darn sight more than Eggers Eggers Eggers All the Time, Love Him He's Inflatable).

"A lot of people" do overintellectualize philanthropy, Eggers included. While teaching kids to write is a fine fine thing indeed (But will he publish the words of a Hispanic girl living amidst empty vials and abusive parents in McSweeney's? It remains to be seen.), it can't possibly compare to the real trauma of unemployed people, homeless people being told to pull a NIMBY Trail of Tears by the Brown Machine, moving west but still shivering in the cold. "Specious and ultimately patronizing notions of what's best for those who need to help" indeed. Does this mean Eggers is one of those spineless out-of-touch yuppies who supports the Guiliani Care Not Cash BS currently being disseminated by Gavin Newsom?

Spare me the sanctimonious treatment for a literary individual who not only remains deliberately apolitical, but stunningly bland, perpetuating the safest topics known to humanity: WASP whining that reaches its pinnacle with trifling chapters devoted to eMpTV "notables" like Judd Winick.

If Eggers is "independent," you have to question why a guy would go out of his way to blacklist anyone who disagrees with him or who (shock! consternation!) actually questions his talent.

Chad LundgrenAug 06, 2002 at 3:07PM

I agree most online writing is not polished enough for print. One goal of my blog, Zen Haiku, is good writing, by which I mean cutting needless words, adding missing transitions, and spell checking. I'm still pondering the audience issue: it turns out "kitty corner" doesn't mean anything to Australians, and URL is a piece of jargon. Almost every blog I frequent has decent writing, now that I think about it.

mikeAug 06, 2002 at 3:08PM

Ed. Dude.
The man is putting some of his money to good use. He opened up a free writing center for kids in the Mission. The world is a slightly better place because of this.

It sounds like you want to pin all that's wrong with SF on his head and take him to task for what he HASN'T done. Be glad for the good that people do, instead of criticizing what they DON'T do.

By the way, I think a Hispanic girl living amidst empty vials and abusive parents has bigger issues than not being published in McSweeney's.

kevinAug 06, 2002 at 7:12PM

Here's a great compilation of online writing. We just did it ourselves. Dave Eggers would be so proud.

npAug 06, 2002 at 7:45PM

"Best Online Writing" is quite subjective.
Would you decide alone, would you ask a committee of your friends, or a committee of already published writers to make the selection?

All of these are valid, but you would come up with three different books. Does it matter which one would sell?

mathowieAug 07, 2002 at 12:29AM

Actually, if I remember correctly, online writing was included in consideration for eggars best writing thing. I just searched through my email and found this forward from a few months ago:

Also, one last thing:
We’re finishing the Best American Nonrequired Reading in the next week, and are still open to any ideas for things you might have seen in 2001. We’re looking for fiction, essays, journalism, humor or comics published in 2001 that would be of interest to readers 14-22. So far we’ve got stuff by Sam Lipsyte, David Sedaris, Daniel Clowes, The Onion, and some great magazine journalism. We’re still a little thin on work from smaller magazines and webzines. So if anything hits you, give us any kind of referral or url, or you can drop off magazines or copies. The collection wraps up on May 20.

That’s all for now. Thanks for your time.


Dave Eggers
Barb Bersche
Ninive Clements Calegari
Eli Horowitz
Yosh Han
Justin Gallagher

They include the terms "webzine" and "URL."

(It's funny how people either hate Dave Eggers or love him. there's no in-between. He's either satan or jesus)

Michael S.Aug 07, 2002 at 12:45AM

I have to say, I was disappointed and underwhelmed by "Manual." My review is here http://beebo.org/lately/2002-06-26_short.html but in short, I think the stories too indulgent. (I would be interested to read other reviews.)

One of my favourite web writers is Mil Millington, of "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About" http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mil.millington/things.html. He was deserving of a wider audience, and eventually he got one, through a column in the Guardian and eventually a book deal. So you can be "discovered" through your writing on-line, if you're lucky and you're good.

EdAug 07, 2002 at 3:31AM

Mike: To respond in Eggers-like fashion, since that seems all the rage when discussing this genius and his accomplishments with the universe, said accomplishments clearly pushing the Sistine Chapel, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and the Pet Rock off the dais of recorded human achievements:

Understand that DE is probably a swell guy that you can take home to your parents for dinner. Understand that DE's memoir is what I would call good in parts, particularly while parked on the john. Understand that endless digression and footnotes worked very well in Pale Fire, but that was some time ago and a good deal better. Understand that this form of writing has pervaded every known outlet from New York to London. Understand that the last thing the world needs is more Eggers clones being cranked out at 826 Valenica. Understand that some avid readers prefer the directness of an Ian McEwan or the punchiness of a William Vollman (ironically, the latter was published by DE) rather than the preposterously long prose of a Rick Moody.

But, most of all, understand that McSweeney's, while it has contained some good writing, has yet to touch beyond the level of entertainment and THAT is problematic. Understand that any email ending in "That is all" is symptomatic of someone going needlessly out of their way to impress, rather than allowing said writing to stand on its own two feet. Understand that Eggers has, with his philanthropy, received the kind of coverage that long-time activists and charitable operations, who have been at this business a good deal longer than Eggers and who have canvassed for such trivial issues as hunger, homelessness, political equality and disparity between rich and poor, SHOULD have received and that these same activists have been about the cause rather than the Big-Name Celebrity.

Funny how people are so willing to praise Eggers and yet not search for writing outside the McSweeney's school of thought. Or as Gore Vidal said in response to a query related to quality writers in today's age, "There are as many good writers as ever there were. The problem is that there are so few good readers."

rob adamsAug 07, 2002 at 6:56AM

Online writing will get its just attention when their pages stop illuminating the readers face.

It's all about the medium.

Books don't shine, but my webpages do, and that makes books a ton more accessible.


rob adamsAug 07, 2002 at 6:57AM

... and trap those unclosed html tags, eh?

rcadeAug 07, 2002 at 7:35AM

Understand that Eggers can't help the fact that the media would report on his daily bowel movements if he let them. He has been given a considerable amount of free publicity and fame and he's using some of it to help people. That bastard.

mccreathAug 07, 2002 at 9:23AM

Can we close those ourselves?

Ed, I'm a bit baffled by the vitriol you're heaping on Eggers here, since nobody on this page has mentioned his apparent divinity but you. He's just this guy who has the luck to have a lot of attention paid to him, and he happens to want to help kids learn to write better. It's what he's good at. I doubt he's calling the press and saying "Screw the hunger activists! I'm talking about writing!"

JasonAug 07, 2002 at 9:38AM

I'm 32 and I've heard of all that shit. Over 30 is such an arbitrary and untrue arbiter of taste. Hell, over half of Gen. X is over 30.

AnilAug 07, 2002 at 10:08AM

Wow, I've never read any of Eggers' stuff, only barely browsed McSweeney's, and decided it wasn't really that compelling to me. That you're so fixated on his fame and credit he gets for doing good works seems to indicate that maybe the problem lies on your end, Ed.

If you've got such a problem with a single author getting disproportionately praised in the press for an effort that, while good, is not unequalled, then why are you reading Jason's site, of all things?

EdAug 07, 2002 at 11:54AM

Anil: Wow, how did you see my plan? I mean here I was preparing to shift my crosshairs over to Jason Kottke as the Evil Overlord once Eggers was usurped from the throne, and you've spoiled my stratagems. I'm afraid I'm going to have to let the PR agency I've commissioned to handle Kottke's inevitable ruin decimate him on their own.

I am so "fixated," to use your strange term, on Dave Eggers not because of his popularity, but because of his actions. I am convinced he is doing harm to the current literary climate. When Eggers himself has his people introduce him as "this generation's James Joyce" (as has happened at a few signings), I want to throw copies of Finnegan's Wake at 826 Valencia. He is, as has been stated above, just a man. But make no mistake: he is also a savvy-as-fuck marketer. So savvy that he has used his influence to kill off an Atlantic Monthly profile as well as zines that are critical of him.

Do you honestly believe that 826 Valencia got the coverage it did without Eggers' acolytes making a single call or dropping an e-mail? If so, I'd love to see the idealistic fantasy world you've manufactured for yourself.

Eggers maintains a quarterly in which he doesn't pay his writers (and there are a number of literary micropublications that still manage to cut even a modest check to writers for services rendered; of course, they don't publish their stuff in Iceland). He includes material from talented writers that fits within the convienent McSweeney's formula, but never chronicles the real issues of the day.

I am further bothered by the idea that the only authors that young readers seem to be cognizant of are those books sanctioned by McSweeney's, regardless of whether they are good or not. McSweeney's is as much a branding success amongst Gen Xers as Nike is amongst urban black youth. And while McSweeney's isn't operating in an export processing zone, a case could be made that its "no pay" policy is stunningly out of step with the $28 price tag. Go to any book signing for Michael Chabon, Jonathan Saffran-Foer or Rick Moody and you will see this in action. Endless twentysomethings flocking around a literary hero, concerned more about the personality than the work itself, with a knowledge of literature that extends back no earlier than 1992.

While it's certainly great that Eggers is doing his part to encourage Gen Xers to read and youngsters to write, he has to realize that he is obviously having an influence. And he has done damage in offering the Eggers imprimatur to digressive and spineless stuff written by young authors, as opposed to authors who write about the hard, the real and the intricate, authors who spend years of their lives creating literature involving carefully constructed language and real emotions, as opposed to innocuous chapters devoted to Judd Winick or Adam Rich.

But that's just one guy's opinion. If you want to continue believing in the emperor that has no clothes, then be my guest. As Anil notes, the problem may just lie on your end.

boringmeAug 07, 2002 at 12:04PM

For this post:
print -- offline material
online -- online material

It will be pretty difficult to bring together a print anthology of outstanding online writing. Namely, online works tend to be shorter, more brief in length, and I'm not talking "New Yorker Fiction feature" or "O Henry Award short story" short. I'm talking "less than 250 words" short. Such is nature of writing online: write short, write sweet. And I'm not going to pay $28.95 for a book filled with such short writings -- I already did make such a purchase once. If I seriously want to by a digest of well-versed social commentaries, I'll invest in a Dilbert collection.

Also, online writings tend to be...er...self-indulgent. Although it's neat to see the evolution of blogs, especially in their movement through business platforms, overall, online writers tend to be inner-focused. What did I notice? What brought me delight? What's important to me?

To defend Egger critics -- I did read his novel and thought it was well-written, but at points a bit self-indulgent...which is why I figured it was such a hit with the online blogging community. There's nothing cooler than being eloquent about me myself and I.

The anthology would be a neat idea -- but a hard one to justify for any publishing company. Will it be profitable? Will it be reasonable? To assemble one will require a serious look at offline user behavior. How do we read print material? Because it is different from how we read online material.

JWAug 07, 2002 at 1:33PM

FYI: I believe that McSweeney's now pays their contributors.

GeneAug 07, 2002 at 1:42PM

Ed's point, I think, is reasonable. The attention Eggers and his projects receive is out of proportion to his abilities as a writer. The Paris Review is publishing great stuff--perhaps more straightforward and less reflexive than Eggers's material--but you'd hardly even know it was in print. Meanwhile, every kid with a web site flogs for McSweeney's.

Part of Eggers's problem, I think, is that his every action requires an irony-check--'does he mean this? or is it just art masquerading as life masquerading as art?' The irony that runs so deeply through AHWOSG and McSweeney's now taints even Eggers's acts of sincere charity (I'm assuming 826 Valencia is one).

Lastly, Rick Moody is a genius.

jkottkeAug 07, 2002 at 2:12PM

If you've got such a problem with a single author getting disproportionately praised in the press for an effort that, while good, is not unequalled, then why are you reading Jason's site, of all things?

Yes, let's not mistake popularity with quality. If I'm not the N*Sync of weblogs, I'm at least on par with one of the lesser known but still popular and mediocre boy bands out there. Someone on a mailing list used the phrase "perfectly adequate" to describe such things...things that aren't good but, for whatever reason, are still liked by certain people. I like that.

ps. Me, me, me, me! Eggers! Me!

sacre_bleuAug 07, 2002 at 2:37PM

I am so "fixated," to use your strange term, on Dave Eggers not because of his popularity, but because of his actions. I am convinced he is doing harm to the current literary climate.

You hate Dave Eggers because you think people like him more than they ought to. Got it. It's a grown-up version of the gut-wrenching highschoolers feel when some other boy gets invited to all the parties, dates cheerleaders and gets elected "Most Popular," though he is clearly shallow pond scum.

What I don't get is why you think the "literary climate" is so weak and rudderless and seduced by Eggersness. You think that writers' styles have been subsumed wholesale into the Eggersphere?

How would one man have such power, unless the writers give it to him? Or are writers mere weathervanes, spinning to follow some critic's words of praise? I guess you don't think much of writers to start with.

mikeAug 07, 2002 at 2:52PM

I want to throw copies of Finnegan's Wake at 826 Valencia

That's a great idea, Ed. Here's a list of other things they need.

richardAug 07, 2002 at 3:09PM

Ed, you are a very very angry man. Might I humbly suggest you sit and look at the ocean for a while (unless you'd complain about that uncouth wind blowing sand in your face). Failing that, you may want to see a professional. Seriously. Dude, you are one angry motherfucker.

Your first step of twelve: Stop reading Eggers and McSweeney's and coverage of same.

Your second step of twelve: Stop complaining about what you perceive to be Eggers' crimes.

Your third step of twelve: Start doing something good for your community.

EdAug 07, 2002 at 4:04PM

Amazing. So someone brings up repeated points over why they do not like a particular author, coming on drippingly strong, if not outright sarcastic, and they are declared a crank, a psychiatric nut case and a bitter and jealous man.

Good thing that I didn't claim to invent the weblog or anything. Or else I really would have been raked over the coals over what is clearly the most important argument since the Nuremburg trials. All we need now is Zaphod Beeblebrox.

jkottke: David Geffen told me he wants to speak to you about something.

jkottkeAug 07, 2002 at 4:30PM

I don't know if there's much left to discuss here, but if there is, could we keep it a bit more on-topic? Ed's mental state is not at issue here. Let's call him passionate about the issue and leave it at that.

I can relate to Ed's feelings about Eggers...the Academy Awards often leave me screaming at the television. "Julia Roberts? Julia Fucking Roberts?!!? What! The! Fuck??!!!?" We all need a machine to rage against. Or something.

mikeAug 07, 2002 at 5:03PM

yes, yes. back to topic.
there's a benefit tonight for 826 valencia. if you're in SF and can afford it, and care for such things, and like Mark Eitzel you should try and go. info here.

And may God bless all the passionate ones.

robAug 08, 2002 at 2:30AM

you know, i don't particularly like eggers either, in terms of his prose or his disproportionate adulation. in fact, he annoys me, even in some vague way that i can't quite put my finger on. and i don't understand the people who lavish him with praise and coo over his readings. but i do have to admit that his philanthropic work can't be *all* bad. actually, i had to admit that it was kind of nice. even if he churns out mcsweeneys clones (which, i don't think will really happen), he's providing a good service to a community that needs it, and that can't be all bad. anyone who wants to make a positive difference in their community -- whether they get the praise or not -- is a good thing, in my opinion, even if it's unfair. at least the community is reaping the benefits otherwise.

RoryAug 08, 2002 at 5:28AM

boringme, you may not be willing to pay $28.95 for a book filled with less-than-250-words-short writing, but how about $10.47?

JoshAug 08, 2002 at 7:35AM

Ed might be a little pissed off, but I will admit to flying into a rage over Dave Eggers at times. I read AHWOSG after it was recommended to me by a couple friends and was pretty disappointed. It appealed to me much more, I must say, as a memoir of San Francisco in the early nineties than as any kind of moving or human work of literature.

As far as I'm concerned, anybody who just loves Dave Eggers and has never read Infinite Jest is deluding themselves -- David Foster Wallace was there first and did it much, much, much, much better. AHWOSG is a lazy book. Eggers is the Seinfeld of literature -- his book is about nothing whatsoever in the end. Read a novel like "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee and you see everything that Eggers is missing in his writing.

(Not to say that philanthropy is a bad thing at all -- but there is an Eggers cult and it's a waste).

mauraAug 09, 2002 at 10:46AM

That gimmickry, notoriety and celebrity frequently trump talent and nuance is a given in these Page Six-saturated times. The question, then, is how to combat, or at least circumvent, these forces? Trying to yell louder than someone's press rarely works, from what I've seen in this thread and elsewhere -- it merely adds to the echoing inside the chamber. So what, then?

MackeyAug 09, 2002 at 11:01AM

Good point Maura. 'What then' is get off your ass and write the shit that you think is better. If it never gets noticed and you never get your movie deal, well then at least you tried and didn't just spew venom in dark corners of the internet.

This idea that harm can be done to the "current literary climate" is the biggest crock I've heard in a long time. What literary climate is that? What role do you think "literature" plays in contemporary American society? So Eggers is a half-drunk, crazy-eyed sea cap'n steering the grand vessel of American literature way off course? Come on! Wake up and smell the gin, man!

Dave Eggers wrote a clever, entertaining memoir. It might not be genius or great, but it's better than a lot of boring crap out there. In overall American culture it's a small blip. God forbid he'd try to start a little camp of writers and publish shit he thinks is amusing. God for fucking bid he'd think there could be a "literary movement" in 2002.

mauraAug 09, 2002 at 12:11PM

But what if you are writing shit that you think is better? I guess that was the "What, then" answer I was in search of ...

JoeJoeFeb 27, 2003 at 5:15PM

Below is the most stupid quote I think I have ever read, EVER. Yeah that New Yorker and Rolling Stone are really underground - no one over thirty would have ever heard of those edgy rags! What a complete tosser.

"a selection for young people of the best literature from mainstream and alternative American periodicals: from The New Yorker to Jane, Rolling Stone to The Onion, Vibe to various magazines, zines, and journals that, if you’re over thirty, you’ve never heard of."

JoeJoeFeb 27, 2003 at 5:15PM

Below is the most stupid quote I think I have ever read, EVER. Yeah that New Yorker and Rolling Stone are really underground - no one over thirty would have ever heard of those edgy rags! What a complete tosser.

"a selection for young people of the best literature from mainstream and alternative American periodicals: from The New Yorker to Jane, Rolling Stone to The Onion, Vibe to various magazines, zines, and journals that, if you’re over thirty, you’ve never heard of."

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.