At Goodreads, join debut novelists Malena Watrous, Peter Bognanni, Emily Gray Tedrowe, and Sonya Chung for a meaty and candid discussion, including confessions about procrastination and the fact that we all actually really enjoy writing. Moderated by Katrina Kittle. Click here to join.
I've mentioned here before that I'm currently getting my masters in new media journalism in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. As such, expect to see the occasional post on the topic from here on out. To that end, I want to mention Dan Gillmor's book We the Media. Gillmor is well-known for his blog which is, broadly speaking, about the blogging phenomenon itself. The book takes on the question of where blogs fit into the panoply of the media. It's worth a look for anyone who's wondered if these here blogs are good for anything beyond killing time in their cubicles. Best of all, the entire book is available for free at the publisher's website.That's enough new media for now. In other news Michael Chabon's new Sherlock Holmes tale, The Final Solution: A Story Of Detection, is out tomorrow. We'll see what the reviews bring, but in the meantime, take a look at this excerpt.Finally, have a look at this: A Colorado man is compiling "The Great Library Card Collection."
In an item posted last weekend, we wrote, "Senator Arlen Specter realizes that there's no way to endear yourself to Republican primary voters like writing for The New York Review of Books." The item should have read: "Democratic primary voters." We apologize for the error.
To read one of George Saunders' stories is to gain a glimpse into an antic, often frightening, just-slightly-shifted alternative world. To read a George Saunders collection is to discover the human sorrow his stories plumb. Reading Pastoralia was something of a revelation for me because, though I've read many of Saunders' stories before, I had never dug into one of his collections and had not appreciated the full force of reading several of his stories back to back. As an aside, this would be an argument in favor of short story collections, which, well constructed and edited, should bring on a "greater than the sum of its parts" reaction in the reader.In the case of Pastoralia, Saunders' characters are, as ever, pathetic, trapped in soul-sucking existences, with demeaning jobs and dysfunctional relationships. What elevates Saunders' stories from what might be depressing muck is his eye for detail and his dry (almost deranged) wit. In the long title story that opens the collection, we peek in on the world of a caveman impersonator. Imagine if the life size caveman diorama at your local natural history museum were populated by actors, and you get the idea. That sounds bad enough, but Saunders overlays the world of corporate bureaucracy and buzzword double-speak onto this "edutainment" scenario. The "actors" are as much prisoners as they are employees.But this is not 1984 or The Matrix. Saunders' characters do not conform to the typical occupants of dystopias - millions of buzzing drones and a handful of "enlightened" struggling against the status quo. He offers characters, who are, well, like us.In the story "Pastoralia," we have a guy with a mind-numbing job (fake caveman), not enough money, a sick kid at home, coworkers that range from annoying to malicious, and a company in the throes of an "employee remixing." This sounds more like someone who spends his days stocking shelves at Wal-Mart or temping at a cubicle farm than the gray and black Big Brother, robot-controlled nightmare of the future that has always been offered as civilization's worst case scenario.And this is what is so subversive about Saunders. He essentially is telling us that we are living in that worst case scenario, in the dystopia that we have been taught to fear and fight against. But he does so with such humor and well crafted detail that there is none of the didacticism that one my might expect from such a point of view. Saunders is no raving Luddite, instead he has the ability to highlight the absurd minutia of modern life that we typically ignore or take for granted: the "Daily Partner Performance Evaluation Form," the "fax makes the sound it makes when a fax is coming in," "Stars-n-Flags... They put sugar in the sauce and sugar in the meat nuggets," "Cute Ratings," "Credit Calcs," and "Personal Change Centers."If our dystopia hasn't already arrived, then we are perilously close to it. And whether or not you choose to look for these parallels, consumed without prejudice, Saunders' stories are well crafted and utterly readable. I found myself careening through, hungry for the next off-kilter detail and scenario. I finished the book thinking that Saunders is a worthy chronicler of modern life.
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