Carolyn Lang: The Last Book I Loved, You Shall Know Our Velocity!


The last book that I loved was You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, which is about two friends, Will and Hand, who come into $32,000 around the same time one of their friends dies unexpectedly.

They are devastated by his death, and decide that they can’t keep the money because of the pain it represents. The book unfolds from Will’s perspective as the two friends impulsively embark on a globe-crossing adventure to give the money away to people they think deserve it.

I loved this book because it captured the complexity of loss and redemption in a wanderlust trip around the world. Will speaks with striking clarity about the vacillating uncertainty between wanting to do good and not knowing if his actions mean anything; if his time and energy are just drops in a huge vacuum-like bucket. He articulates the anxiety that comes from the juxtaposition of idealism and the injustices of the world that are reality.

Maybe it is the relevance the book had to my life at the time, trying to figure out what I should do to reconcile the difference between my desires and the fact that many notions that I have are unrealistic or romanticized. Will’s description of this divergence led me to feel more connected to him than I thought was possible to feel to a character in a book.  He explains the feeling of hopelessness in the face of drastic odds without being self-righteous or trite.  He speaks with the overload of emotion of trying to sort through the limits of his ability and his conscience. “I was feeling everything too much. Everything pulled at my eyes. I spent hours floating in pools.”

I have often heard people say that you should first help the people closest to  you before you take off on a trip to a far-flung location.  I understand the idea behind this sentiment, but I have always felt the desire to travel. I am never content with being sedentary, and at times the most appealing thing to me is to take off and leave every responsibility behind me to see the other ways that people live.   From what I have seen, people who travel very far away aren’t completely content. They are restless. Maybe they are looking for something, or maybe they’re running away from something.

In this book, Will was running away.  He couldn’t get away from what was tormenting him, but on the way his unfaltering self-doubt and innate pain often paved the way for an ability to see the world without pretenses or expectations: “There is a chance that everything we did was incorrect, but stasis is itself criminal for those with the means to move, and the means to weave communion between people.”  He empathized with the suffering of those around him because of what he was going through, and refused the notion that the idea of failure can drain the motivation to even try.

I think in life we are taught to think of grandiose plans and lofty ideals as naive.  We realize that there are often more difficulties than were originally anticipated and that the world can hurt you. His account reminded me that there is still promise in the open road, still a reason to talk to strangers, and to maintain our convictions in the face of crushing loss.  Dave Eggers speaks through Will, and the result is a candid testament to the fact that meaning can be found through loss, through accepting the world’s imperfections and your own.

Seeing the world as Will does, as imperfect, heartbreaking, and often unjust, but simultaneously with the shine of infinite potential, I remembered the allure of adventure. Despite the disappointment that he often faced on his travels, he didn’t forget that people are generally good.  He allowed himself to continue to be surprised by the beauty that he saw around him where most others see only hardship, from the dirty, winding streets of Senegal to frozen villages in Latvia.

My understanding of the book may be going in several different directions, but I think is fitting for the tone of Will’s conflicted account of his struggle to understand the meaning behind his experiences and his own limitations. I think that might be the point of the struggle, the questions and wonder that continue to surface- that they provide us with a reason to continue to explore, to try, and to hold on to what is important to you when the realities of life try to take it away.

Carolyn is from a Chicago suburb and went to University of Illinois to study News-Editorial Journalism. She is currently interning at Amnesty International in Washington, DC before she returns to U of I to get a Master's of Political Science. She has been lucky enough to do some traveling in the past few years, and in the future would like to do more. Right now she is spending most of her time figuring out what she wants to do in the future and planning as much travel as possible to satiate her curiosity. She thinks that will take a while. More from this author →