Thursday, January 22, 2009

Random Commentary

First of all, I feel the need to announce that Trader Joe's Mayonaise is like eighty bajillion times better than Hellmans.
It tastes fresh and real and almost like it was just whipped up in my kitchen.
Who knew.
Thanks to Ms. Knit-Whit for that, or her mom by way of her sister-not-in-law.
Long story, but did you know that some people put mayo on a grilled cheese? I haven't tried it yet, but I intend to.


The other thing is, I just finished reading Dave Eggers "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius", and I feel I need some literary-type person to explain to me what the big deal is.
Even if that means talking to me like a second grader, really.
Because it's a highly acclaimed book and a Pulitzer prize finalist, but I just don't get it.

I found it tedious.
And occasionally annoying.
And it's not a book I would ever think twice about much less think was important or recommend-able.

So seriously, can someone who is smart about these kinds of things tell me what it is exactly, about this book that is supposedly so earth shattering? Like is it a style thing, or what?
Because I feel like there is some memo I never got.
And if you've just been shocked by my ignorance in such a way that you're calling me an idiot to yourself, that's OK.
Because I probably am.
And if you can grant me the patience to explain it, even it's in the same way you'd explain something to a five year old, I'll love you.
Because I just need to know.

Did you know that Hellman's is called Best Foods out here in WA? I don't eat mayonaise but still it was a weird transition after I moved here from MN. Oh and Edy's Ice Cream is called Dryers. Both have the exact same packaging look but different names. It's too odd.

I can't remember why I liked " A Heartbreaking Work..." so much. I read it probably 6 or 7 years ago. I got a copy that had an additional addendum and I thought it was interesting that each and every page of the book was written on/by Dave. Like the info page has text on it written by him and isn't just your usual printed on this paper by this company and copywrite info. But honestly I think if I read it now I might be a bit annoyed by his style.
I liked Heartbreaking Work when it came out. I think it was popular because it has a great title and it was the right book for the time. 2000 was about the time reality TV took off as well, and this book appeals to some of the same desires.

Personally, I enjoyed the details and sidebars authors choose to include. His details were hilarious and easy for me to relate to, right down to Might Magazine (which I had read in the 90's) and the crazy rock band names that were so common.

I also related directly to his struggles with not feeling as though he was an adult, nor knowing what that meant. I'm middle aged and still have more to talk about at the kids' table on Thanksgiving. I somehow related to him while I never related to Catcher in the Rye or On the Road (which are both easily better books)

As for the writing and language, I agree it's probably not that special. Its best quality being it has a strong voice.

I got dumped after defending Heartbreaking Work on a 2nd date. I was told I'm one of those oh-poor-me-white-males-looking-for-some-way-to-feel-sorry-for-themselves. Worked out fine.

I put mayo on Peter's grilled cheese sandwiches. He insists I do that ever since we saw Alton Brown do it. I think it's gross, though, so I use butter on mine. I live in fear each time I make grilled cheese that I will mix up the two. We have the Trader Joe's mayo, but I haven't tested against Best Foods/Hellman's. Maybe I will have to make deviled eggs or potato salad.

As for the Eggers book? I think it's a style thing. But it's okay for you to not like it. There are plenty of books that everyone thinks are the best things since, you know, Hellman's mayo, but that I personally could not stand (cough, time traveler's wife, cough cough).
I'm right there with ya on the book, I didn't get it.

I'll pick up a jar of TJ's mayo this weekend and give it a whirl, Best Foods is my go-to. I make mayo from scratch for salads too but frankly it's not worth the hassle for sandwiches.

Regarding using mayo in place of butter for grilled cheese my feedback (having tried this "trick") is a NO! It's greasy and eggy and tastes nothing like real butter. Real butter and real cheese (not Kraft singles or Velveeta- REAL cheese) are essential to the humble but mighty grilled cheese sandwich.
I think A Heartbreaking Work... contains the typical elements for a plotline: tragedy, hardship, difficult family relationships, the bildungsroman element of the vagaries of becoming an adult and what that means... In that sense it is a classic memoir or autobiography.

On the other hand, the narrative structure is utterly atypical. There are bizarrely unreal fantasy scenes, he plays with time, compressing it or drawing it out to suit the purposes of his story. He allows his characters to talk to him, ie. to be aware of their own existence as characters, and to interact with him in internal dialogues. And he uses all manner of postmodern literary gimmicks that put the author back into the text.

It was hailed as the height of the postmodern novel because its structure is deliberately not linear, because of the meta aspects (the direct dialogue from author to reader in the preface, or the dialogue between characters and author), and because it is suffused with a sense of displacement. And yet it does not take these things seriously, the predominant sense being of self-mocking irony/irreverence. It's a self-reflexive mockery of the fact that our times seem both surreal and banal, but not a complete mockery because there is still some affection there.

From a positive review (there were, of course, many negative as well:

"Much of the humor in Eggers’s memoir derives from flat-out good storytelling. But he’s also not adverse to employing a judicious assortment of postmodern literary stunts. At one point, Toph offers a psychoanalytical critique of the narrative thus far. "You’re completely paralyzed with guilt about relating all this in the first place," he tells Eggers, and then complains about the book’s "gimmicks, bells, whistles." Later on, a dangerously suicidal friend of Eggers takes the author to task: "I mean, how much do you really care about me, outside of my usefulness as some kind of cautionary tale, a stand-in for someone else, for your dad, for these people who disappoint you..." [...] As contradictory as it may sound, Dave Eggers appears to have discovered a heretofore unknown strain of smart-ass irony that bonds tightly with sincerity, with vulnerability, and with honest human emotion. It’s unprecedented. It’s a shocking assault on our hipper-than-thou Age of Smart-Ass Irony."
I found Eggers book to be so self-centered to the point of insanity. I don't get what the big deal was either.

Thanks for the head-up on TJ's mayo - I'm a big fan of mayo and fear trying anything besides Hellman's/Best Foods mayo. As to why the Hellman's/BF and Eddy's/Dryer's - as a transplant to the west coast I often wondered the same thing. There is also the Carl's Jr/Hardee's name change across country. Odd!
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