I know, I know, I’m late with this but better late than… you know.
Eggers opened with reading a piece, something he’s been playing with, that he’s never read before, that he thinks might become something bigger (that is, a novel). We in the audience shift in excitement. Well, others do more than me because I’ve not read Dave Eggers, beyond possibly thirty pages of A Heartbreaking… (By the end of his reading, though, I am with the crowd and I’m thinking to myself: I have to read this guy.)
I’ll stumble… I’m not very good at it…
— Dave Eggers, on reading new prose
Man, he was good. Not at the reading so much but what he read. I was in. It was funny. It was amazing.
“The decor was casino crossed with lobster crossed with Louis XIV.”
As Eggers read, he apologised for ‘cursing’ (strangely, coincidentally, amusingly, there was an older couple in front of me and I’m POSITIVE the man was the same man who last year stood up and asked of Teju Cole: “Why do you feel you have to swear so much?”) I have written in my notebook that as Eggers gave this pre-apology he gestured to the man in front of me. Did this same man give him the Cole treatment?
Eggers proceeded to read and he was laughing as he read it. He loves it. Some people might think this ego or arrogance but I disagree. A person can be surprised by how good their own stuff is, almost as if someone else wrote it and they are reading it fresh for the first time. How delightful.
Benjamin Law was the ‘interrogator’ in this event, and his first question opened with ‘it sounds like quite a different book to your last few books… Are you a frustrated American writer?’ (This could be my bad note-taking, because those two statements don’t seem to cohere. Oh well.)
DE said he tries to make them as drastically different as possible but maybe there will be similar themes. He said he doesn’t know if it’s frustration. (Another aside: as Eggers spoke, he checked in frequently with the audience to clarify Americanisms – RV, zip code, swat team. Meg Wolitzer did the same with ‘summer camp’. It’s a nice gesture and sure, they are used to having to interpret in this way but it also shows, possibly, that they have no idea how familiar we are with American culture; how we have been raised on it.
Law commented that Eggers had published three books in as many years, ‘pumped out almost a novel a year… What is your work method like?’
DE: What is What took four years. I feel an urgency in stories that have to get out into the world. But it needed research.
Eggers said he’s 44 now, and at 41 felt he had ‘the skill set’. Before that he wasn’t ‘super confident’ about finishing things he started. He had six years without sleep and it wasn’t until his kids started sleeping that things could settle a bit with his writing. He writes in a cabin where BIRDS was filmed, it’s 1.5 hours north of San Francisco (?) and for Eggers it’s a ‘happy place’. He was about to give up, or did give up a project, it had been 4 years of work, but then he went for a bike ride and everything came together. The voice, structure, everything.
When it came to questions, Eggers said that he and Law had agreed backstage that they weren’t a fan of the roaming mike, so ‘just shout out’ he said.*
The first question related to his recent novel The Circle, and the audience member asked how it was received by tech companies in the bay area. I didn’t write down what he said to that. He was also asked his horoscope, and he didn’t answer that either. He said that the idea that information is on the internet and for free, there has to be the question: how do we pay for it? Do we pay by being spied on and having our data collected? (It’s a really interesting question.) He said any comparisons between Orwell’s 1984 and his The Circle are inevitable. He’s always very careful about what he’s reading while he’s writing so he won’t be swayed inadvertently. He reads other subjects, non-fiction, etc. He didn’t read 1984.)
(I’ve got a note in my notebook: woman in front nodding constantly. Matronly. Compulsive, constant nodding. WTF.)
That was it. I didn’t take many notes and, as usual, they are scrappy and barely sensible, but FWIW, here they are. Over the next week I saw via the MSM that Eggers was still in Melbourne; making visits to schools and community literacy organisations, including the 100 Story Building in Footscray. If this isn’t good-guy stuff, then I don’t know. Warmed my heart to see.
* I wasn’t happy with this because while they managed to repeat most of the questions, they didn’t repeat them all and I got lost.