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3.0 out of 5 stars
7
3.0 out of 5 stars
The Brain-Dead Megaphone
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Price:£6.02


on 6 July 2012
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.
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on 10 July 2009
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.
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on 14 January 2014
Hated this book.
Bought it after reading about Saunders but I've never found a writer so pompous.
Can't understand the fuss about the author. He has nice ideas but his style is so egocentric.

My mistake was to buy 3 of his books in a momentary lapse of reason (a flash deal).
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on 29 April 2014
George Saunders finally hit public view with his short-story collection The Tenth of December (available on Amazon and definitely 5*), which showcases his amazing knack for writing down the very distinctive, not always grammatical or logical but quite authentic, voices of his skewed characters. But other writers have had him on their radar for the past decade. This collection of his essays shows the same humane, liberal but fair cynic who sees the injustices of our modern world and turns them into, well, a strange yet familiar world. This collection includes a hilarious and apt introduction to Huckleberry Finn as well as some crackpot mock press-releases and modern gonzo journalism. I laughed till I nearly broke a rib.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 March 2016
I've read a bit of Saunders' fiction and enjoyed it well enough, if not quite to the point where I run around talking about it. He does seem to have a slightly different take on things, so I thought I'd give this non-fiction collection a whirl. The sixteen items here are mostly magazine pieces in a variety of genres from full-on think pieces (the titular one, which I skipped halfway through and "Thought Experiment) to short satiric New Yorker-style humor ("Ask the Optimist", "Proclamation", "Manifesto", "Woof", and "Nostalgia) that were only mildly amusing to me.

The strongest essays were those that revolved around literature and travel. This includes his introduction to the Modern Library edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which immediately made me want to reread the book in the wake of his essay. There's an interesting deconstruction of writing the short story that revolves around a Frederick Bartheleme story called "The School." a reasonably engaging essay arranged around Slaughterhouse Five, and a nice piece reflecting of his development as a reader in his early 20s while working in Indonesia. Less successful is a remembrance of a teacher's recommendation of Johnny Tremaine.

My own preference was for the long-form travel pieces -- although not "A Brief Study of the British", which is an unfunnny humorous recounting of his visit to the Hay Book Festival and another literary event in England. In the intervening decade since this collection came out, the Dubai he explores in "The New Mecca" is no longer a nouveau riche novelty, but a more commonplace globalized gathering place, but his essay exploring it remains insightful and fun. A slightly more dated piece is "The Great Divider", in which he visits the border of Mexico in order to seek out various perspectives on illegal immigrants, including a night patrol with a particularly inept, and highly armed, band of Minutemen. More straightforward and timeless is "Buddha Boy", a trip to Nepal in search of a teenage boy who had allegedly been meditating without food or drink for seven months. In the mode of an amateur investigative journalist, he attempts to stay up all night trying to catch someone sneaking the boy sustenance.

As a whole, the collection is so disparate that I'd have a hard time figuring out who to recommend it to, other than people who already know and like Saunders. It's definitely worth dipping into, although I guess it's worth mentioning that Saunders is very up-front about his liberal politics, and so his satiric lens may well not suit every reader. He attempts to channel a kind of humanistic benevolence at the same time, which is mildly effective, if sometimes a bit treacly.
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on 8 January 2011
!!! Didn't make it past p21 !!!
A right-on PJ O'Rourke or a literary Michael Moore - take your pick. The title piece is mostly indignation. We feel your pain, George (yes yes we feel it) but I prefer the more measured tone of, say, Geoffrey Nunberg, or other commentators without number, though actually graphic artists (like - cartoonists?) are often best at simply channelling the bile (and they can probe deeper - Joe Sacco, and check out sublime contrarian (and chronicler of the 'Stans) TED RALL); but the 2nd piece is travelogue (prime O'Rourke territory) so I'll stride boldly out... NOPE! here we feel the pain of the writer striving laboriously to amuse

May 2013
Made it to p175 (yawn). Zadie Smith should perhaps be more careful in her indorsements ('Not since Twain'? I ask you!). I yield to noone in my admiration for our Zadie - we have precious few intellectuals, after all, let alone hip ones (if I may so describe her) - but I fear the sea air can be over-stimulating; safer to assess the heady delights of Amerika from a cisatlantic niche my dear! Now if she wants to give Ted Rall a puff...
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on 26 May 2015
Given as a gift
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