Friday, December 01, 2006

Page turners and multiple platforms

When I heard about Dave Eggers' newest book, "What is the What," on NPR, I knew I wanted to read it and write of a review of it for my Reviewing the Arts class. I won't reprint my 600-word review on here, but I'll summarize: it's good, it's very different from "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," it's a product of remarkable investigative journalism, it marks a great step forward in Eggers' writing.

That last bit of my summary turned out to be the most important. To accompany our 600-word reviews, everyone in my class had to devise a "multi-platform" element as a supplement. After our initial bewilderment at that line in our syllabus, we found that we could record audio podcast commentaries, design slideshows or compile video montages. Some students did just one of these; others combined two of them. One person designed an intricate, interactive website for the art exhibit she reviewed -- kudoes, Susie!

Since I had identified this development in Eggers' work, I decided to do a podcast taking a look at the development of his writing with a slideshow of book covers, pictures, etc. I looked at how he's expanded his literary focus from being very self-oriented to being very global and other-centered. I also integrated his work with the band Thrice in designing the artwork for their album and the residual influence of their themes and lyrics on his writing of "What is the What."

I had to re-read parts of "A Heartbreaking Work" and "You Shall Know Our Velocity!" and read, for the first time, Eggers' 2005 short story collection "How We Are Hungry." As a whole, the stories echo "A Heartbreaking Work" a little bit -- wide shifts in emotion, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes both moods smooshed right up against each other. But the settings and landscapes are so distinct and so well-drawn that they sometimes overshadow the characters. And none of the characters hang their heads or bemoan their situations; they move forward. They persevere. This seems to be the best model for the writing that Eggers taps into in "What is the What" -- intimate, personal, aware of the tragedies of the past, but not weighed down or consumed by them.

I was really happy with how the multi-platform supplement turned out. If I can figure out how to post it on here, I will.

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