Friday, March 28, 2008

The Megahearted George Saunders...

On endings, beginnings, megaphones, essays, compassion, disgruntled dogs, immigration, and lonely bookmarks:

Last week's Booking Through Thursday question was:

You’ve just reached the end of a book . . . what do you do now? Savor and muse over the book? Dive right into the next one? Go take the dog for a walk, the kids to the park, before even thinking about the next book you’re going to read? What?

(Obviously, there can be more than one answer, here–a book with a cliff-hanger is going to engender different reactions than a serene, stand-alone, but you get the idea!)

I thought this question would be especially pertinent today since I finished a book last evening: THE BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE by George Saunders. What did I do after I finished it? Well, a number of things, actually. The first of which was to restrain myself from going back to page 1 and beginning all over again, which usually means I enjoyed myself a great deal. I did. On a very random whim - and I do mean random - I pulled this book from my shelf on Monday. It wasn't as if I didn't have other things to read, nor was it as if I wasn't already in the middle of reading five other books. But as it happens from time to time, this book started calling to me from the shelf and my lack of resistance when it comes to beckoning books is well-documented by now.

For four nights and three days I engrossed myself in Saunders compassion, his empathy, his humorous prose, and his transparent love for and undying faith in humanity. Before I began this book, I already had a full-fledged literary crush on Saunders - now it's unabashed love. Any writer who can go from embodying the voice of a disgruntled dog contemplating biting off the "various hangie-down things" of his master because --

There are times, deep in the night, when you have been "tippling" and/or "imbibing" and/or "getting pershnockered," when, perchance overwhelmed by joy (I hope it is joy, and not something darker), you shed your puzzling overskin and stand in the kitchen, moving hips and all, to that melange of painful-high-pitch and human squawling you call "Purple Rain." ("Woof: A Plea of Sorts")

-- to putting human faces and human hearts on the "illegal alien crisis" --

Tonight, America seems like the for-centuries-dreamed-of rescuer of the Little Guy, the place that takes a guy like Hector and puts some pounds on him, sets him on his feet, puts a spring in his step, and ends, forever, his flinching hustle for two-dollar hot dogs. But first he has to get here. ("The Great Divider")

-- this guy is a guy I can love. Saunders doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears it in his writing, and it's our luck as readers that his writing is a great as his heart is big.

Which is why as soon as I finished THE BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE I wanted to read it all over again. But we all know I don't have time for that. Besides, getting back to my original discussion, the second thing I feel after I finish a book is that unquenchable curiosity - the driving force behind my passion for literature. After I've finished one book, I begin to wonder about all those other closed books sitting on my shelves that have yet to reveal their secrets - secrets that have the potential to be as awesome, or if I'm lucky even more awesome, than the one I've just finished.

So I did what I usually do when I suddenly have a bookmark without a home: I went scouting around for another. I didn't go very far at all. It went from Saunder's collection of essays to his collection of short stories: IN PERSUASION NATION. To be fair, I started the stories long before I started the essays which was some time early last year. But I got bogged down, and the book got replaced with something else. But inspired, and on a Saunders high, I decided to give it a go again, and it's going much smoother now. The clear-sighted empathy I saw in his essays is not hard to find in his stories. I anticipate that in another week, I'll have added this to my "retired bookmarks" list as well.

And that's where we are now. To sum: what do I do when I've just finished a book? I turn right around a read another. Or, if I'm really in a good mood, I'll start five.

by George Saunders
Riverhead Trade / Sept. 2007
272 pgs.; $14.00

1 comment:

LK said...

George Saunders is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I'll have to get my hands on this one.