Saunders' mixed book of essays/stories is every bit as good as his previous books Civilwarland in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, only this book contains a lot of non fiction rather than just fiction. His essays on writers are clever, well thought out and articulate, as you would expect from a literature teacher. He writes about Esther Forbes, Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Barthelme, and Mark Twain with insight, wit and humility.
There is some fiction in the form of the part fiction/part non fiction article "A Brief Study of the British" detailing his book tour in Blighty. The other fiction stories: A Survey of the Literature, Nostalgia, Proclamation, Woof!, and PRKA are average at best but are very short pieces from 3 pages to 10. The best of the fiction is the story "Ask the Optimist!" which is about an optimistic columnist answering readers' queries. Easily one of the funniest pieces I've read by Saunders, it's one of the highlights of this book.
The best parts of the book though are the journalistic pieces that are about 30-40 pages each. The subjects are Dubai and its many luxury hotels; the border between America and Mexico; and a teenager from Nepal who has been meditating without food or drink for 7 months. Each of these were for me the best to read. Saunders' unique voice is a pleasure to read and his geniality and natural storytelling ability make these stories come to life effortlessly.
The other two essays "Thought Experiment" and "The Brain-Dead Megaphone" are think pieces on society. A bit condescending in places, they are nonetheless as well written as the other pieces in this book and as worth reading.
Overall, I cannot recommend this more. It's a fascinating read filled with nuggets of truth and beauty and humour and you can't do worse than this short read. George Saunders. Remember the name. Then pick up one of his books and find out why I wrote this review.