Reviews for Braindead Megaphone

Booklist Reviews 2007 August #1
All the qualities that make Saunders' bristling, inventive short stories distinctive and affecting are present in his rollicking yet piercing essays: droll wit, love of life, high attention to language, satire, and "metaphorical suppleness," which is what he credits Mark Twain with in his penetrating homage "The United States of Huck." A MacArthur fellow whose fiction includes In Persuasion Nation (2006), Saunders also pays tribute to another guiding light, Kurt Vonnegut. A number of essays explicate Saunders' predilection for acrobatic parody and attunement to language's moral dimension, including the exhilarating title essay, which uses an ingenious analogy to explain the precipitous dumbing down of the media and the pernicious results. Saunders is also uncommonly funny, dynamic, and incisive in his reporting on his adventures on the border with a group of quirky and inept Minutemen, his visit to the spanking-new and massively opulent city of Dubai, and his participation in a mystifying vigil in Nepal. With a keen sense of the absurd, incandescent creativity, and abiding empathy, Saunders catapults the essay into new and thrilling directions. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2007 July #1
This provocatively engaging collection illuminates the thought processes of one of America's masters of literary gamesmanship.Though the magazine pieces that Saunders (In Persuasion Nation, 2006, etc.) has written for the likes of the New Yorker, Harper's and GQ provide an inviting introduction to the unique stylist, devoted fans of his fiction will find their appreciation (and understanding) deepened as the author analyzes the effects that the writing of others has had on him. Not surprisingly, the Chicago-raised writer turned "Eastern liberal" (his description) expresses affinity and affection for such native Midwestern humorists as Kurt Vonnegut (whom he celebrates as a seminal influence) and Mark Twain, while his geometric analysis of a short story by fellow experimentalist Donald Barthelme provides insight into both Barthelme and Saunders. Especially revelatory is "Thank You, Esther Forbes," in which Saunders details how his childhood reading of that author's award-winning Johnny Tremain showed him how and why sentences matter. Yet things are never as straightforward as they seem with Saunders, and what this volume characterizes as "essays" is in fact a typically tricky mix from a writer who resists pigeonholing. Pieces such as "A Survey of the Literature," "Ask the Optimist!," "Woof: A Plea of Sorts" and the utopian closer, "Manifesto: A Press Release From PRKA" (kind of the prose equivalent of John Lennon's "Imagine"), could have fit just as easily into one of his story collections. Longer, reported pieces such as "The Great Divider" (on border immigration issues) and "Buddha Boy" (on a seemingly miraculous meditator) display a profound empathy that resists knee-jerk response. Perhaps the most conventional essay here, and one of the most powerful, is the title piece that opens the collection. Saunders employs "The Braindead Megaphone" as a metaphor for mass media and shows how arguably talented, intelligent individuals have achieved a collective effect of dumbing down the national discourse.Much smarter and more stimulating than the typical author's clean-out-the-closet collection. Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2007 August #1

Saunders, best known as a fiction writer (e.g., CivilWarLand in Bad Decline ), uses the skills he's honed writing for The New Yorker, GQ , and Harper's to take on politics, literature, and religion in his first essay collection. In the title piece, he discusses the many ways in which the media have become a "braindead megaphone." He compares on-air coverage of celebrity news (from the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase to Paris Hilton's incarceration) with that of hard news (e.g., the famine in Darfur and America's dependency on oil), finding the traditional television media caving to the pressure for ratings and advertising. If blame is to be assigned, he writes, a "lazy media, false promises, and political doublespeak" are the culprits. In other essays, Saunders wonders what has happened to the spirit and wisdom of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut in American letters. "Mr. Vonnegut in Sumatra" is particularly timely and poignant. This lively read, by turns funny, frightening, and fascinating, is recommended for all public and academic libraries with large nonfiction collections.--Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 June #4

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)

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