What Eggers and Obama Have in Common April 30, 2008Posted by Jennifer in : books,politics , trackback
I went to preschool at Trinity Church, the same place in which I voted for Hillary Clinton last week. Memories of forced naps and bananas swirled as I realized that I was still torn. My final choice was not only based on colorful blazers and gender; more importantly, I like Hillary’s chances against the vicious attacks that the Republicans will unleash against either candidate. I love Obama’s writing style and his ability to inspire and shake out apathy— I even have some regrets about casting my ballot for H.C. I still believe in my logic, but I worry that I’ve become part of the problem, the divisiveness that is dragging this race out, and will make it harder for either candidate to win against McCain.
To console myself, I thought about the positive side of the long drag. Perhaps the proximity of the result to the actual ballot-casting will allow the interest in the race to peak in the summer, and simmer until election day in November.
So, what do Barack Obama and Dave Eggers have in common? They both have terrible book titles. I know this is an easy criticism to mock, since both have written big bestsellers, but seriously, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope? In a title-only book contest, those would be low on my list. I love Obama’s writing, but I hope he consults me on title #3.
I resisted reading Eggers for years because of the annoying title, Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius and then also rejected What is the What? which sounds like a book that you can only read if you’re really smart. To me, that’s pretentious titling and also absurd, since the book is an accessible and soul-searing memoir of a boy’s walk through war-torn Sudan, and his eventual immigration to America.
I gave into What is the What?, because it was selected as the "One Book, One Philadelphia." I enjoyed it more than any book I’ve read this year. It’s beautifully written, brilliantly structured and the ending is sublime. The next book I read was of course, Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was also great for the first 100-150 pages, but then became virtually unreadable in its self-obsessiveness. In his debut, Eggers failed to solve the problem of keeping first person narration interesting for 400+ pages, but in What is the What, he solved it in a brilliant way: although the narrative voice is always Valentino Achak Deng’s, the audience shifts. In one chapter, Deng directs his writing to his pious upstairs neighbors, and in the next, it’s a jogger that he checks in at the gym he works at.
After voting, I ate a Calamari Caesar salad (as good as it sounds) and gave up on Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius. On my way home, I ran into a black man, who was pushing a cart with a limp. He may have been homeless. He asked me "What is that, auburn hair?" I told him I’d call it red, and we both agreed that regardless of nomenclature, it was a great color. This type of exchange has become typical for me in the past few weeks: the number of black men who have hit on me since going redhead has gone through the roof, while white men flirt with me the same amount, maybe even less. For instance, today at the 7-11 I got: "I want to have a redheaded baby."
I asked the man on the street if he had voted yet, and he told me not yet, but that he was on his way to the polls. He looked at me, and said, "you’re voting for Hillary right?", an annoying question because he was right but how did he know? I avoided the question, and asked who he voted for. He said "Obama" and I said, "yeah, he’s great, good choice." So I wished him well and walked off but he asked louder, "So who did you vote for?" I waffled again and said, "Both good choices." When I was already on the other side of the street he shouted the question one more time. I didn’t want to admit to a probably homeless and definitely poor black man that I voted for H.C. But I couldn’t lie and could no longer escape his inquiry. I was already across the street when I finally yelled: "Hillary." Before walking away, he told me: "Good choice too."