cover image The Braindead Megaphone: Essays

The Braindead Megaphone: Essays

George Saunders, . . Riverhead, $14 (257pp) ISBN 978-1-59448-256-4

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)