Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Read This: The Braindead Megaphone

It's been a long time since a book made my brain-goo jiggle like this one has.

I started reading The Braindead Megaphone this weekend. It jumped to the top of my reading cue for two reasons:

It's by George Saunders, a really weird, brilliant, widely acclaimed short story writer. I've used his story "The Falls" in my classes for years, often for no good reason except that I like it and it baffles the kids (but usually for better reasons than that.) I've waded just a bit into his short story collections, but nothing really hit me like "The Falls."

Then, reason number two, George Saunders shows up on a podcast of "To the Best of Our Knowledge," (you can hear it at the link) reading an essay that gets it right. So I got the book, and he keeps getting it right, and he's smart and funny and bizarre (and maybe a little too bizarre sometimes - a couple of the essays in the middle fell flat for me).

This book captures my opinions about anti-intellectualism and immigration and the importance of language and the role of story and Kurt Vonnegut and lots of other things better than I could. I keep wanting to Xerox his essays and hand them to specific people: "Here. This guy wrote what I think about that."

There are lots of books I like. But this one really gets me jazzed up. This one goes on the short list along with (ready?)

  • Catcher in the Rye (no points for originality there)
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Life of Pi
  • Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the whole damn series, but mostly the first three.)
  • Blink
  • The Happiness Hypothesis
  • That book I read with the cover drawing of a rat in an excercise wheel on the front in the back of the Buick when my parents were driving us to the beach that I lost in my first move and I'll never see again because I don't know anything about it pardon my misplaced modifiers.
  • Zoo Story
  • Sandman (all of them)
  • I Am The Cheese. And The Chocolate War. And After the First Death.
  • Straight Man
  • lots of things by Tom Perrotta, but mostly maybe Bad Haircut, or The Wishbones, or Election
  • Watchmen
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (but no more classics; that's cheating)
  • I Know This Much is True (I had forgotten how much I liked that one, but it's looking down at me from a bookshelf right now, and it wishes to be included.)
  • Less Than Zero and Bright Lights, Big City, but that was a while ago. College, I think? Just after.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany
  • The Road

Not so short list. There are more. Those were off the top of my head, except for Wally Lamb, who crashed. I reached pretty far back there. I remember getting I Am The Cheese from a friend at my sleepover birthday party somewhere around age nine. I read The Road this winter, and The Happiness Hypothesis last fall.

Is it harder for you to get really excited about books like you used to? I was missing that the past few days. I was wandering around the library and I came across the sci-fi paperback rack. I haven't read sci-fi, like real spaceships and robots sci-fi, since, I dunno, middle school? So I went to that rack, and I was viscerally reminded of that feeling I got from the library when reading still felt kind of new, how exciting it was to grab some paperback novel with exagerated heroes (Oh my God! Doc Savage! I used to love Doc Savage! I forgot all about Doc Savage!) for no reason, how exhilerating that was. Now, older, I feel like time is short, and everything I read has to be worth it. I'm going to put Brothers Karamazov aside - it's a winter book, seems to me. I'm going to finish this Saunders book, and then I'm going to read some really genre-y science fiction and see if it is still that fun.

Anyway, that list has a bunch of books that excited me at one point or another. And, now, The Braindead Megaphone is doing that.

The most creative thing I've done since the last entry:
Allowed myself to get distracted by iMovie, and edited this short clip of my daughter fencing.

The least creative thing I've done since the last entry:
Graded grammar quizzes.

Stuff that helped:
There is no more exciting and fertile time for teachers than the last week of school when summer seems like it will be endless and perfect. Then, at breakfast on the first day off, the kids lose it at breakfast and you realize what you're really in for. But this week is that last week before, and everything is possible.

Stuff that hindered:
Of course, you also have to grade the finals. And finish quarter grades. And get the curriculum map updated. And. . .there is no more rushed, tedious time for a teacher than the last week of school.

Current project:
Nothing feels pressing right now. I do need to finish a film I started for next year's freshmen. I think I may put off the big huge project I planned to start this week. I need more research first. It feels good to have finished "Ring."

Next project:
Oh. Yeah. Well, next big project, referenced above. I'm being a little hush-hush still.

Yes! I sat with some beginner's book for a while this week. I rule on "Two String Rock"! It feels silly and fun to feel a sense of accomplishment at such an elementary level.

What I should be reading these days:
Final exams.

What I'm actually reading these days:
Duh. Did you read the post?

Today I recommend:
Duh again. Read the post.

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