Eric Recommends: ‘The Areas of My Expertise,’ ‘Consider the Lobster,’ ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’

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A few books I’ve read recently that I can recommend with a clear conscience. (Some books, you know, if you recommend them you feel bad about it.) The links take you to Amazon, where if you buy anything — even if it’s not the original item you clicked on — I get a tiny kickback, which helps support the site. So buy lots of stuff at Amazon! And check out these books, too.

“The Areas of My Expertise,” by John Hodgman. John Hodgman is perhaps best-known at the moment for being the P.C. in those P.C./Mac commercials. His book is an exercise in absurd erudition, being a faux-intellectual compendium of such “facts” as which presidents had hooks for hands and which colonial jobs involved eels. He also gives a lot of information about hoboes, including a list of 700 hobo names. The book is extremely funny, though it may be too much of a good thing. Best to read it in small doses, not big chunks.

“Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace. Another very smart man, a writer’s writer, a lover of words and a lover of footnotes, that is David Foster Wallace. This collection of previously published essays covers a variety of topics, from the porn academy awards to a lobster festival, from a Los Angeles talk show host to a review of a new book on grammar and usage (a review which extends to the ongoing debate among traditionalists and modernists). His writing is always intelligent and very often hilarious. As a lover of words myself, I found this one of the most intellectually exciting books I’ve read in a while.

“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” by David Eggers. David Eggers founded McSweeney’s, both the quarterly publication and the ongoing Internet concern. (John Hodgman and David Foster Wallace have both written for McSweeney’s, by the way, and I picture the two of them and David Eggers sitting around being smart and witty together.) This book is nonfiction, Eggers’ memoir of how his parents died and he found himself, at the age of 22, caring for his 8-year-old brother. It’s the mid-90s when this happens, and Eggers is heavily into the ironic hipster culture, trying to start a Gen-X magazine, trying to meet women, trying to raise his little brother at the same time. The book is affectionate, funny, poignant, and perhaps more meaningful to people Eggers’ age (e.g., myself) than others. It’s undeniably well-written, however, even if you have little tolerance for 22-year-old hipsters who fancy themselves brilliant writers.

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