guide_1194.jpg

You Shall Know Our Velocity! (Eggers)

You Shall Know Our Velocity! 
Dave Eggers, 2002
Knopf Doubleday
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400033546


Summary 
Will has surprisingly come into a large amount of money. His photograph screwing in a lightbulb has been made a silhouette and is being used as a picture for the company's lightbulb boxes.

Will with his friend, Hand, buy plane tickets to the most obscure countries possible, wherein they will give the money away, bit by bit, to people whom they arbitrarily decide are most deserving. According to Hand, they gave to people for the benefit of both parties—as a sacrament with the purpose of restoring a faith in humanity.

Without a solid set of criteria, or a definitive direction in their plan, this proves surprisingly difficult, and they experience much awkward confusion and moral uncertainty. Barely able to achieve their goal of giving away their money, the two are reduced to pretending to ask for directions, and taping money to barn animals. The plot is both a log of the journey, as well as a look into the mind of the narrator, Will, who often feels isolated, confused, and shy. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—March 12, 1970
Where—Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Reared—Lake Forest, Illinois
Education—University of Illinois
Currently—lives in San Francisco, California


Dave Eggers is the author of four books, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, How We Are Hungry, and What Is the What. He is the editor of McSweeney’s, a quarterly magazine and book-publishing company, and is cofounder of 826 Valencia, a network of nonprofit writing and tutoring centers for young people.

His interest in oral history led to his 2004 cofounding of Voice of Witness, a nonprofit series of books that use oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. As a journalist, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Believer. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter. (From the publisher.)

More
Eggers was born in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up in suburban Lake Forest (where he was a high-school classmate of the actor Vince Vaughn), and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He lives in San Francisco and is married to the writer Vendela Vida. In October 2005, Vendela gave birth to a daughter, October Adelaide Eggers Vida.

Eggers's brother Bill is a researcher who has worked for several conservative think tanks, doing research on privatization. His sister, Beth, claimed that Eggers grossly understated her role in raising their brother Toph and made use of her journals in writing A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius without compensating her. She later recanted her claims in a posting on her brother's own website McSweeney's Internet Tendency, referring to the incident as "a really terrible LaToya Jackson moment". On March 1, 2002, the New York Post reported that Beth, then a lawyer in Modesto, California, had committed suicide. Eggers briefly spoke about his sister's death during a 2002 fan interview for McSweeney's.

Eggers was one of three 2008 TED Prize recipients. His TED Prize wish: for community members to personally engage with local public schools.

Eggers began writing as a Salon.com editor and founded Might magazine, while also writing a comic strip called Smarter Feller (originally Swell, then Smart Feller) for SF Weekly. His first book was a memoir (with fictional elements), A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). It focuses on the author's struggle to raise his younger brother in San Francisco following the sudden deaths of their parents. The book quickly became a bestseller and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. The memoir was praised for its originality, idiosyncratic self-referencing, and for several innovative stylistic elements. Early printings of the 2001 trade-paperback edition were published with a lengthy, apologetic postscript entitled "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making."

In 2002, Eggers published his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, a story about a frustrating attempt to give away money to deserving people while haphazardly traveling the globe. An expanded and revised version was released as Sacrament in 2003 and retitled You Shall Know Our Velocity! for its Vintage imprint distribution. He has since published a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry, and three politically-themed serials for Salon.com. In November 2005, Eggers published Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated, compiling the book of interviews with exonerees once sentenced to death. The book was compiled with Lola Vollen, "a physician specializing in the aftermath of large-scale human rights abuses" and "a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley's Institute of International Studies and a practicing clinician." Novelist Scott Turow wrote the introduction to Surviving Justice. Eggers's most recent novel, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (McSweeney's, 2006), was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Eggers is also the editor of the Best American Nonrequired Reading series, an annual anthology of short stories, essays, journalism, satire, and alternative comics.

Eggers is the founder of McSweeney's, an independent publishing house. McSweeney's produces a quarterly literary journal, McSweeney's, first published in 1998; a monthly journal, The Believer, which debuted in 2003 and is edited by wife Vida; and, beginning in 2005, a quarterly DVD magazine, Wholphin. Other works include The Future Dictionary of America, Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, and the "Dr. and Mr. Haggis-On-Whey" children's books of literary nonsense, which Eggers writes with his younger brother. Ahead of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Eggers wrote an essay about the US national team and soccer in the United States for The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, a book published with aid of the journal Granta, that contained essays about each competing team in the tournament.

Eggers currently teaches writing in San Francisco at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit tutoring center and writing school for children that he cofounded in 2002. Eggers has recruited volunteers to operate similar programs in Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, all under the auspices of the nonprofit organization 826 National. In 2006, he appeared at a series of fundraising events, dubbed the Revenge of the Book–Eaters tour, to support these programs. The Chicago show, at the Park West theatre, featured Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Other performers on the tour included Sufjan Stevens, Jon Stewart and David Byrne. In September 2007, the Heinz Foundations awarded Eggers a $250,000 Heinz award given to recognize "extraordinary achievements by individuals". The award will be used to fund some of the 826 Valencia writing centers. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
Headlong, heartsick and footsore....Frisbee sentences that sail, spin, hover, circle and come back to the reader like gifts of gravity and grace....Nobody writes better than Dave Eggers about young men who aspire to be, at the same time, authentic and sincere.
New York Times Book Review


You Shall Know Our Velocity! is the work of a wildly talented writer... Like Kerouac's book, Eggers's could inspire a generation as much as it documents it.
Los Angeles Times


There are some wonderful set-pieces here, and memorable phrases tossed on the ground like unwanted pennies from the guy who runs the mint.
Washington Post


The bottom line that matters is this: Eggers has written a terrific novel, an entertaining and imaginative tale
Boston Globe


Eggers ’s writing really takes off—his forte is the messy, funny tirade, stuffed with convincing pain and wry observations.
Newsday


Powerful.... Eggers’s strengths as a writer are real: his funny pitch-perfect dialog; the way his prose delicately captures the bumblebee blundering of Will’s thoughts; ... and the stream-water clarity of his descriptions.... There is genius here.... Who is doing more, single-handedly and single-mindedly, for American writing?
Time  



Discussion Questions 
1. You Shall Know Our Velocity! contains drawings, photographs, and reproductions of notes and maps that Will and Hand create in the story. How surprising is it to come upon such visual elements in a literary text? What do they add to the novel? In what ways do they challenge the conventions of the novel form?

2. Do Will and Hand decide to take their trip in order to escape their grief over Jack's death, or to confront that grief and possibly transform it? Is their trip an act of penance? What guilt do they feel in relation to Jack?

3. Will received his money for allowing an advertising company to use his silhouette, a shadow image of him screwing in a light bulb. In what ways is this circumstance both meaningful and absurd? What other absurd elements appear in the novel? Does the book's humor diminish or deepen its more serious concerns?

4. Will carries on internal conversations and arguments in his head, with Hand, with strangers, with Jack. But he's tired of them. "I wanted the voices silenced and I wanted less of my head generally" [p. 27]. Why is he so tormented by these voices? What does he want instead of the constant arguing? Does he find it by the end of the story?

5. In Estonia, Will questions why he is giving away his money: "Was the point to give it to people who needed it, orjust to get rid of it? I knew the answer, of course, but had to remind Hand" [p. 239]. What is the point of giving the money away? Why does Hand need to be reminded?

6. Hand describes at length the nomadic tribe of "Jumping People" in South America. These people believed in "the impermanence of place" [p. 376] and felt that they carried the souls of their dead loved ones on their backs like mountains. In what ways is their story relevant to Will and Hand's story? In what instances is jumping, or leaping over, important in the novel? Why has Eggers used the message the Jumping People carved into the cliff above their village, "YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY," as his title?

7. Will winces at Hand's awkwardness when he spills his soda while giving money to a Moroccan family. "What kind of person brings his soda? You're giving $300 to people in a shack and you bring your soda? Nothing we did ever resembled in any way what we'd envisioned" [p. 226]. Why is it so hard to give the money to people gracefully? What are some of their more fanciful ideas about how to deliver the money? Why is the way they give it so important to them?

8. In what sense can the novel be read as an elegy to childhood, or to the lost innocence of childhood? What childhood experiences do Will and Hand remember most vividly? In what ways is their behavior still childlike?

9. Will describes a swarm of birds as "swinging to and fro, overlapping, like a group of sixth graders riding bikes home from school" [p. 101]; and of the smoothness of a Moroccan woman's skin, he says: "Next to skin like that, ours seemed so rough, like burlap woven with straw" [p. 220]. Where else does this kind of metaphorical language appear? What does it add to the novel?

10. Near the end of the novel, as they prepare to part, Hand asks Will when he will return from Mexico. Will says he doesn't know but thinks to himself "I'm going to keep going" [p. 389]. What does he mean by this? Is he suggesting suicide, the death by drowning referred to in the novel's opening sentence?

11. Will is beaten when Hand disappears. Later, in one of his interior dialogues, Will says "Most of being a man is being there, Hand" [p. 347]. Why is "being there" so important for Will? What other absences haunt him? Is Will able to be fully "there" for others?

12. Apart from disencumbering them of Will's money, how does this journey affect Will and Hand? Does it affect them differently? What do they discover about themselves and each other, about the world and their place in it, during the course of their travels?

13. In what ways does Eggers speak for or represent not only his own experience but the sensibility of his generation? How does that sensibility differ from previous generations?

14. Will's mother thinks it is "condescending" to swoop in and give poor people cash, while Will considers that attitude illogical, a defense for her own "inaction" [p. 123]. Is Will right? Is his way of giving better than his mother's support of charities? What is the essential difference between giving something to someone face to face as opposed to giving through a charitable institution? In what sense is the novel, as a whole, an act of giving?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

 

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2014