Victoria's Reviews > The Braindead Megaphone

The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
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May 13, 2011

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bookshelves: non-fiction, essays, humor
Recommended to Victoria by: Amy Seaman
Read from May 10 to 13, 2011

Reading Saunders is a perfect example of how a writer's voice can make or break a piece. "The Braindead Megaphone" is funny, outspoken and one of those very rare books that's both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. Saunders has a distinct way of drawing you in with his easy-going voice, and relatability. For many of his pieces featured in the book, it feels like having a long conversation with a good friend on topics ranging from the immigration debate, the decadent hotels of Dubai or a literary debate on the merits of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn."

It's Saunders' unique voice, and I'd argue excellent story-telling skills, that makes his longer pieces such a joy to read. For me, the standout pieces of the book just happened to be the longest, and seemed to send Saunders off to far corners of the earth just so he could tell us what these exotic, far off places are like. He has an astute eye for observation, which makes reading a 42 page essay on America's illegal immigrant problem a genuine "can't-put-your-book-down" experience. That said, the hands-down best pieces of the book were: "The New Mecca," "The Great Divider," and "Buddha Boy."

The reason why this book gets 3 stars instead of 4, however, is that I feel the structure of the book as a whole is a bit lacking. Normally, I'd be care a little less about that sort of thing as its a collection of essays--there's just one niggling detail. In the titular essay, Saunders sets out with an obvious agenda to "take back" the reigns from the terrorist-hating, fear-mongering pundits of the post-9/11 era. In fact, you could say that most of these essays hew towards a particular theme of trying to get the reader to think outside the box, to question the status quo and to think in a new light. Does Saunders always succeed? In short, no. I found some essays a bit preachy and clearly advocating a strong liberal bias, which in my opinion, ironically puts the megaphone in Saunders hands. The most grievous offender was the book's closing essay, "Manifesto: A Press Release from PRKA." Written as a quasi-"call to arms," it read as far too preachy and left me wishing for a better ending to what was generally a wonderful collection of essays (Or perhaps that's a huge meta joke, based off of his discussion of Huck Finn's widely panned, deus ex machina ending).

He also has quite a few essays on the nature of literature and writing itself, and its evident to see how his interpretation of good literature and writing has shaped Saunders into the talented writer he is today. Some were more satire and experimental--with varying degrees of success. I enjoyed "Woof: A Plea of Sorts" but thought "A Brief Study of the British" went on for longer than it needed. Still its refreshing to see more experimental work.

Overall, "The Braindead Megaphone" Is edutainment at its finest.
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Reading Progress

05/10/2011 page 37
14.0% "The New Mecca: My Arrival in Heaven"
05/11/2011 page 85
31.0% "A Brief Study of the British"
05/12/2011 page 220
81.0% "Buddha Boy: Bad and Getting Worse"
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