Monday, March 02, 2009

"The Braindead Megaphone"
by George Saunders

There's something about reading a book that's a collection of anything. A book of short stories, to me, feels like speed dating through multiple books. You have to prepare for each story, and it passes so fast but you have to find some meaning, but you don't want to spend too much time on it because there are other stories to be gotten to. The same thing happens with a book of essays, except there's not a lot of preparation that has to be done for an essay. You read it, it means, and you're done. On to the next. But for me, it's worse. With essays, if I don't find them interesting, I lose patience and interest very quickly.

Unfortunately, I think The Braindead Megaphone suffered for my short attention span. And I'll even take the brunt of the blame because this book was really mostly just a break from reading the Chronicles of Narnia series. Still, I did want to read it, and was looking forward to it, so I don't feel bad in the least saying that it was a disappointing read.

I've read other books of essays that I've completely loved. The most recent one that comes to mind is Chabon's Maps and Legends. I found myself totally engrossed in that book, looking forward to each essay and wishing each could go on forever, like I might be able to sit in Chabon's den and have five to eight hour conversations with him about his writing and interests (no, I haven't thought about this before; well, maybe a little).

George Saunders is a very funny guy with an amazing grasp of language, love of stories, and a clever eye for observation. Reading his essays on this basis alone is fun. You laugh. Laughing is good. And yet I got bored. Saunders essays turned from funny soapboxes into rambling rants about various subjects, and left me wishing and racing for the final paragraph. I found more often than not that I desperately wanted out of the current essay because reading it was like listening to the crazy guy on the streetcorner talk about the media.

I rarely learned anything from these essays, and from a book of essays, that's what I'm looking for. Some piece of insight, or some new way of approaching a subject. I just didn't find that here. Most everything I read I've heard about before. There was one essay, though, that caught my attention. The second to last essay in the book, called "Buddha Boy". Very interesting, and I would recommend reading that one because of it's sheer interestingness. Saunders wit combined with this experience makes for a perfect essay, one that informs, entertains, and leaves you feeling better and smarter than you did before you started. I won't summarize, just tease. It's about Saunders trip to write about a boy in Nepal that was meditating uninterrupted for seven months in the middle of a jungle. Some people called him the new Buddha. He wrote the article for GQ, check it out.

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