Book 15: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders

philIt’s been awhile, hasn’t it? So much for a book a week… although were standing strong on a book a fortnight, and there are a couple of pre-pubs I’m waiting for the release date to post on, which will help catch us up some.

Don’t us Industry book fiends love our proof copies. ‘Oh this? It’s just a new book from work I’m reading. It’s not in the stores yet, I  managed to grab/borrow/steal from someone’s office/prise out of  my colleague’s overly possessive claws this uncorrected copy of [something brilliant you’re going to be jealous of].’ I’m so flippant about reading copies I’ll tell friends I lend them to that they can just throw them in the recycling when they’re done. ‘It’s not even a real book…’

Yes, that’s right my literary pals, I’m a book chucker.

Are you shocked by that? Somewhat taken aback? Aligning me with the Third Reich? Cursing me with your shushing Nancy Pearl doll? I worship books like any prose-fearing citizen you can name, but I’m not necessarily possessive about the objects. I keep the books I have read and liked. I release those that I didn’t care for or which are ‘no use to me now’. Is that cold? Perhaps a little hyper-practical, as it’s usually done in a quest to make more shelf-room. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain books I would never be rid of on purpose, and I certainly suffer from thing-lust as much as the next bibliophile. For example I’m currently waving under everyone’s  nose my new copy of 1984. And I have a stunning illustrated version of Strunk and White given to me by a fellow editor who understands one’s passion for long-standing cryptic grammatical texts. It’s just that I don’t feel that way about every book that’s ever been written.

Everyone had their own feelings on how they judge a book worth keeping in their collection. For example, if a book is on a shelf then I’ve read it. My bookshelves are filled with the trophies of my literacy. Others like to fill their shelves with potential or a worldly selection. Read hard or die discusses this idea of possession and much, much more…

Are books precious? Indeed. In fact, I’m a card-carrying member of the books-can-change-lives club. I have a resounding middle-class, well-meaning WASPy belief that being literate is one of the greatest powers a person can have. If I was in The Wire, I’d be a do-gooder hanging out with the Deacon trying to give those corner kids copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. I know a lot of people can’t bear the thought of throwing away books, which is great, because it means these little rectangles of tam-creamy still hold an important place in our world. I blame working in publishing for my ability to let go books. I don’t put the same value on the bound-up sheets of paper I once did. I oversee the printing of thousands and thousands of copies of books and so I think I can ‘always get another copy’. Of course, if  you tried to take my signed copy of Sleeping Dollby Jeffery Deaver, I’d have to gut you like a fish…

One author, whose books I would never rid myself of is George Saunders. One reason I have raved on above is because I knew I’d fail to write intelligently enough about Mr Saunders and his amazingly entertaining, hilarious, pointed, imaginative, realistically-conversationally awkward, touching, stimulating, always and ever impressive, short stories. I feel intellectually refreshed after reading his stories. And I’ve had a good chuckle. You could read a whole text by some quasi-political think-tanker about the evils of consumerism, mass media, economic rationalism, advertising, profit over people philosophies, and governments using military might first, or you could read one of George Saunders’ stories. And they’re not only poignant, they’re funny. Some are downright silly. And beneath the satiric commentary and often terrifying imaginations of our future world, is a touching fondness for humankind.

When I was studying for my masters a few years back, I failed to convince my classmates and tutor of the brilliance and hilarity of Mr Saunders’ books (though they thought The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip was cute – which it is, though much more). Worse for them.

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4 thoughts on “Book 15: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders

  1. I LOVE George Saunders. He is utterly fantastic for several reasons. One of which is that of contemporary satirists, I think he is the most biting. Have you read The Braindead Megaphone though? I think his essays leave something to be desired.

    • I have Braindead Megaphone in the pile… although I must say not overwhelmed to read it at the moment. I struggle to read non-fiction at the best of times, and if it ain’t so hot…

  2. Pingback: 2009 Pile o’ Books: The Aftermath « Pile o' Books

  3. Pingback: 2010 Pile o’ Books: The Aftermath « Pile o' Books

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