Anywhere would be fine, but an escape from the planet Earth would be the first choice of the author, fried from book shilling and media glare. “I’m just tired by life. I just want to get off this planet and go somewhere else,” Eggers says by phone from the Brooklyn apartment he shares with his younger brother, Toph, now 16. Amid constant yawns and throat clearing, a punchy Eggers explains his journey from founder of a long-gone, little-seen Gen-X magazine (Might) and editor of an obscure, quirky literary journal (McSweeney’s) to a reluctant member of the publishing establishment.
L.A. WEEKLY: You’re not a big fan of memoirs. Why, then, did you write your own?
EGGERS: I would never pick up a book that said “memoir.” I hated the word, I thought it was silly. On the one hand, it seems sort of obscene to allow yourself to write a book about your own life. Then there’s a more powerful and true sentiment, which is: Good fucking God, why not? Why do we hesitate to ever tell a true story, what are we saving it for? This is a very strange private theory of mine, but I believe everybody thinks that when we die and go up to heaven we get to tell everybody about our lives down here. But I don’t believe in God or the afterlife or anything like that. If you’re not going to hurt anybody and if everybody in the story is cooperative and everybody agrees to have that story told, then why not tell the story?
Considering the high sob potential of your life, there’s very little sorrow and pain in your book.
There’s this suspicion that, oh well, Toph and I were both much more fucked-up than I’m saying. But that’s not the truth. We chased each other around the house with squirt guns. That’s the truth of it. Some people don’t like that we weren’t walking around bawling all day. I can’t apologize for that. We went to California and we had a really great time.
Because of the loss of your parents, you wrote about feeling like you were owed. Did you really feel bulletproof?
On the one hand, you feel invincible, because you feel emboldened by all this in a way, chosen. On the other hand, there was that precariousness, where you feel like anything can happen and you’re sort of teetering. I don’t think you ever really shake that feeling. I have a friend that was in a crazy car accident, who rolled like six times on the highway. Put him in any car now, and he’s always a wreck. White knuckles on the wheel, it’s the same kind of thing. You get close to stuff, and you know how close it is.
Might and McSweeney’s show a healthy disdain for the kind of popular media canonization that currently swirls around you. Are you ambivalent about the attention you’re getting?
Yeah, it sucks shit. This is the worst. Having somebody call you the literary “it” boy — that’s very painful. We had done interviews promoting Might and McSweeney’s, and it was fine, but I never thought I’d get so sick of this stuff. Also, you get burned by a couple people who are friendly and nice, and then they lie about you in print and turn things around in a way that’s just appalling.
Perhaps it’s your penance, since Might was renowned for taking the piss out of people.
I did an interview with Joan Didion once, and she was incredibly nice and charming, and I wrote about it in a plain sort of way for Salon. Then I turned around and wrote a piece for Might, where I kind of made the whole thing sort of ugly. I got in a few jabs at her — oh well, her recent books just don’t have the resonance of The White Album or Slouching Toward Bethlehem. This was a hero of mine. Who the fuck am I to take a jab at her? But you justify it to yourself — well, I’m just as good as Joan Didion, or I’m the journalist, and my opinion of her is very important. What an asshole I was. I’m having that done to me all the time. It’s been interesting to see all that happen from this perspective and see the same tricks that I used to pull as a young asshole being pulled on me. The ultimate result is that the book sells more copies, and all of a sudden McSweeney’s has all this money. So, as of the next issue, we get to pay people and we get to continue. We were deeply in debt. Now I can take care of that debt. We can pay people and publish books — we’re publishing four books by the summer. That’s the whole point. If I need to be sacrificed in order to do that, that’s fine.