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The Braindead Megaphone by [Saunders, George]
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The Braindead Megaphone Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Best known for his absurdist, sci-fi–tinged short stories, Saunders (In Persuasion Nation) offers up an assortment of styles in his first nonfiction collection. Humor pieces from the New Yorker like Ask the Optimist, in which a newspaper advice column spins out of control, reflect the gleeful insanity of his fiction, while others display more earnestness, falling short of his best work. In the title essay, for example, his lament over the degraded quality of American media between the trial of O.J. Simpson and the 9/11 terrorist attacks is indistinguishable from the complaints of any number of cultural commentators. Fortunately, longer travel pieces written for GQ, where Saunders wanders through the gleaming luxury hotels of Dubai or keeps an overnight vigil over a teenage boy meditating in the Nepalese jungle, are enriched by his eye for odd detail and compassion for the people he encounters. He also discusses some of his most important literary influences, including Slaughterhouse Five and Johnny Tremain (he holds up the latter as my first model of beautiful compression—the novel that made him want to be a writer). Despite a few rough spots, these essays contain much to delight. (Sept. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

George Saunders’s Braindead Megaphone uses the fiction author’s trademark ability to, as the Boston Globe puts it, "convert his sorrow about mankind into exquisite comedies of disappointment" and applies it to the sometimes surreal and often discomfiting world around him. While most critics appreciate Saunders’s attempt to provide a counterpoint to America’s vitriol-filled but ultimately meaningless media punditry, both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times ridicule his humanistic approach as naïve and overly optimistic. One’s reaction to Saunders’ essays seems to hinge largely on one’s acceptance of his liberal perspective, his faith in the power of narrative, and his primary assertion that "the stories we choose to consume take our measure as a species" (Boston Globe).

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 543 KB
  • Print Length: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (September 4, 2007)
  • Publication Date: September 4, 2007
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,266 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For the title essay alone, this is the nonfiction book of the year. Saunders coins this term "The Braindead Megaphone" for our mass media and the circus its made of everything from the OJ Simpson Trial to the War in Iraq - and how we end up thinking and talking about such events, from the most ridiculous to the most serious, in equivalent terms. Both the term and the essay are pretty much right on, and eminently useful...And you have to keep in mind that Saunders is hands down the funniest writer in the business - funny like Stewart or Colbert, but smarter and more humane, less of a shtick. BUT that essay is just the beginning. What follows is a series of essays that are basically the antidote to everything he diagnoses at the beginning - if the media is deadening us, Saunders finds ways to end-run it: he travels to the Middle East, to the Mexican border, and to Nepal, and he tells his stories with the expected charm and humor, but also with a surprising insight and honesty (I never thought he would admit to LIKING the Minutemen he meets - but it makes the whole essay so much more effective when he does). All told, it's just a brilliant book - exactly the book we should all be reading. It's not heavy-handed and it's so much fun to read, but it made me take events in the world more seriously, made me take a fresh look at things, made me think about how I treat people. Wow, that sounds really hokey, but it's true. It also made me laugh a lot.
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Format: Paperback
Based on this collection, George Saunders joins David Foster Wallace on the bench of terrifically smart writers I admire tremendously and who seem like wonderful, funny, mensch-like people.... this sentence needs a but, so here it is:

BUT, whose very cleverness can sometimes sabotage their writing. Ultimately, an excess of cleverness marred 'In Persuasion Nation' for me, and the same is true of this collection.

There are some terrific pieces - the title essay, in particular, is a tour de force. I loved his analysis of the Barthelme story and the essay on Twain. The piece on Dubai and 'Thought Experiment' were great, but I think both have been anthologized previously, as I'd read each already. Although 'Buddha Boy' was well-written, the subject matter didn't interest me all that much.

'A Survey of the Literature', 'Ask the Optimist' and 'Manifesto' were considerably less successful, each bogging down in its own cleverness long before reaching a merciful end.

So, this collection stacks up pretty much like every David Foster Wallace collection I've ever bought (and I've bought them all) - two or three essays so brilliant they leave me breathless, three or four more that are good, but not great, and some that are just headache-inducing.

Except that generally Wallace's brilliance lands him a fourth star. Not the case for Saunders, for this book at least.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Perhaps the title work was chosen as such because of the title, but it is by far the weakest selection in this smattering of essays from a brilliant writer. Though his satire is a little more thin than his fiction, there is a clear Twain inspiration, which gets confirmed with Saunders's intro to an edition of Huck. While the travel pieces, about Minutemen and potential Buddhas, glow with his humanity, the most stellar pieces are of course about writing--Twain's narrative drive, Vonnegut's world perspective, Esther Forbes's sentences--are the most brilliant.
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