The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Summary from Goodreads
The breakout book from “the funniest writer in America”—not to mention an official Genius—a trade paperback original and his first nonfiction collection ever.
George Saunders’s first foray into nonfiction is composed of essays on literature, travel, and politics. At the core of this unique collection are Saunders’s travel essays based on his trips to seek out the mysteries of the “Buddha Boy” of Nepal; to attempt to indulge in the extravagant pleasures of Dubai; and to join the exploits of the minutemen at the Mexican border. Saunders expertly navigates the works of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and Esther Forbes, and leads the reader across the rocky political landscape of modern America. Emblazoned with his trademark wit and singular vision, Saunders’s endeavor into the art of the essay is testament to his exceptional range and ability as a writer and thinker.
In an effort to read more work outside of my usual comfort-zone (which consist mainly of science fiction, fantasy, and their sub genres) I have picked up a few collections of essays to peruse. I have mainly read “for fun” recently, and try to pick out books I am likely to enjoy, either based on knowing the author’s work or seeing a review from an author I follow that rates a work favourably. While still hoping to enjoy these essays, it’s definitely outside my usual reads… so I am trying to keep an open mind!
While published in 2007, much of what is here is still relevant today. In particular, the first essay about the “Megaphone Guy” and the simplification of language in media.
Here’s an excerpt from that section:
Last night on the local news I watched a young reporter standing in front of our mall, obviously freezing his ass off. The essence of his report was, Malls Tend to Get Busier at Christmas! Then he reported the local implications of his investigation: (1) This Also True at Our Mall! (2) When Our Mall More Busy, More Cars Present in Parking Lot! (3) The More Cars, the Longer It Takes Shoppers to Park! and (shockingly): (4) Yet People Still Are Shopping, Due to, It Is Christmas!
There’s a fair bit of truth to this which, and I have often found a lack of interest in the news for this reason… When worded this way, though, it’s clear how silly the process really is. I have noticed similar setups on the news, both in American and Canadian television. It’s a good reminder though, for what to avoid in one’s own writing. Wasting time and being unnecessarily repetitive to take up more time, rather than being concise. I would much rather be concise. What was the line from The Simpsons?
From Wikiquote, for the Season 5 episode Bart Gets Famous:
[Marge convinces Bart to perform one more time.]
Bart: You’re right, Mom. I shouldn’t let this bother me. I’m in television now. It’s my job to be repetitive. My job. My job. Repetitiveness is my job. [to Marge] I’m gonna go out there and give the best performance of my life!
Marge: The best performance of your life?
Bart: The best performance of my life!
(I should note that, in conversation, I quote The Simpsons a fair bit. I grew up watching the show and, as young-me thought was necessary at the time, perfecting a Ralph Wiggum impression. Maybe I should be ashamed of it but, to be honest? I’m not. 😉 )
Anyway! While I found a few of the essays to be interesting, many were not of topics that could not keep my attention for long. I found myself skimming, or skipping some essays outright after a few paragraphs. There were others, though, about storytelling which I found useful and are likely to also appeal to those with similar interest.
Overall, the essays are well-written and the author has a distinct voice in his writing. His work is easy to read and follow and is, oftentimes, humerous as well.