Sunday, January 13

The Braindead Megaphone

A wonderful book full of humor, heart and keen insights on culture and politics. While the most substantive essays are a trio of travelogues (a trip to Dubai, a drive along the Mexican/American border and a visit with the "Buddha Boy" of Nepal) the collection offers a nice variety of musings political, comical and literary. Included is "Ask the Optimist!" an advice column spoof that originally appeared in The New Yorker and was later featured in a puppet production by The Sound of Young America. Of particular interest to this blog are Saunders' essays on Twain and Vonnegut. In the latter, "Mr. Vonnegut in Sumatra," Saunders discusses his understanding of writers and writing before he encountered Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five in the Sumatran jungle at the age of twenty-three:
Writing was, at this stage in my development, the process of trying to do whatever was most unnatural. Art was the thing you couldn’t quite reach. The hope was that someday, when enough failure had been logged, a miracle would happen, and one would briefly be launched above ones station, suddenly able to write in that impossible, inscrutable, ninteenth-century language of the masters, and this miracle would happen often enough that one could eventually cobble together the two hundred or so pages it took to make it a Real Book.
Those familiar with Saunders' fiction know that it is anything but unnatural and inscrutable. He writes with an ease and a warmth that is very much reminiscent of Vonnegut. In "The United States of Huck Finn" Saunders breaks down the narrative structure of Twain's classic and submits the following on the differences between Huck and Tom:
Huck and Tom represent two viable models of the American Character. They exist side by side in every American and every American action. America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks as misery and says: Hey, I didn’t do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I have busted my but to get where I am, so don’t come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privilege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies.
More Saunders:

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