Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reader's Diary #257- Douglas Coupland: Generation X, Tales For An Accelerated Culture (up to "Eat Your Parents")

Grey Badge: Pride (bordering on smugness) over one's extreme cynicism. I can tell you what's wrong, but I can't tell you what's right.

Coupland fans would likely tell me that this is not his best work. However, it is certainly one of his most recognized works, and according to Wikipedia, credited with popularizing the terms "McJobs" and "Generation X" itself. Obviously a very influential book, and Canadian at that, so I felt it was time to read it. My only exposure to him prior to this was his book and accompanying documentary, Souvenir of Canada. As much I enjoyed that (though I haven't gotten around to the sequel), it's probably not all that representative of his larger body of work.

Still, his humour seems to be consistent. There's a slight self-mocking tone to the overall book. It's not always blatant satire, but there are enough subtle jabs made at society and those that think they're above it, to label it as such. Also like Souvenir, Generation X is comprised of tales. The tales in this case are told by three characters within the context of a larger story, a story that is slow to develop but nonetheless remains amusing. But at the same time, it's also a little depressing. While I agree with a lot of what they are saying, the problems that they have with society and the like, the whole "everything is phoney/corrupt" bit gets tiresome. And it bothers me that I can relate, that I've had these very same conversations. Especially since I'm not even supposed to be Gen X. I thought I was part of the MTV generation! Oh well, the labels are a bunch of malarkey anyway. It's really more about a mindset than when you were actually born. And I don't think the defined mindset of the Gen Xers was really the mindset of the majority born in the (rough) time frame which supposedly created them. Was there really as much pessimism and cynicism amongst the general population following the baby boomers? Or were those bleak views held by an intelligence-claiming sub-group (albeit an influential one in terms of pop-culture)? Tobias, though in the same age group as the main characters, could more accurately be described as a "yuppie"- surely such people were just as prevalent, if not more so, than the Gen-X minded lot, and surely there were other middle class Joes and Joe-Annes, that just didn't give two thoughts to what was wrong with eating at McDonald's and to whom the status quo was just a-okay.

The bothersome part as I have said, was that I relate to these characters. I'm not sure if I'm bothered that Gen-X conversations go nowhere and solve nothing or that I still have such conversations. Still I thank Coupland for poking fun and bringing it to my attention. Maybe it's just what I need.


Allison said...

I have not read Generation X, nor am I part of Gen X, whatever it really means, although I have read Microserfs and All Families Are Psychotic, recently. I found both those books very slow to start, and overall I did enjoy them, but there were definitely parts of Micoserfs I remember skipping over. I liked its overall message, and literary style, but found it just sort of ended where it could have almost started. A lot of lead up, but not so much game. There were certain storylines I favoured more than others.

Its funny you should point out that you found it bothersome relating to the characters, I had similar feelings with Microserfs (which I believe came about 4 years after Generation X), and realized it was because a lot of their conversations / arguments are so very cyclical that often times I wanted to reach in and clamp certain characters mouths shut. However, I still found it endearing and felt it was a good read. As you say, sometimes a shake up is what you need.

Anonymous said...

As a card carrying member of Generation X, I have to declare that a book about my generation has no appeal to me whatsoever.

John Mutford said...

Allison, Reading over some of his reviews, the slow build up is a frequent complaint.

Did you find that it affected your conversations afterwards?

Fearless, Spoken like a true Gen-Xer!

Allison said...

Right after I read it I was more aware, but I don't think it affected my conversations too much, as I still discuss the inane and ridiculous, hypothetically speaking, is often a phrase I mutter.

Dale said...

I read it many moons ago and remember enjoying it at the time but don't recall much about it now.

I may allow JPod to renew my interest in Mr. Coupland if I ever manage to go over there to the shelf and pick it up. I'm a sporadic reader but buy the damned things all the time.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I was completely taken in by Generation X, maybe because I read it when it was first published and it seemed so fresh and real to me. I do have conversations like that, and my life is pretty pointless at times. However, Microserfs was the one that really spoke to me. And Shampoo Planet was pretty cool too.

Dale, I had some issues with JPod but won't get into them here, as I don't want to spoil it for you, in case you ever make it over to your bookshelf.

John Mutford said...

Allison, I suspect that any changes in my conversations will be short lived as well. Screw it. I won't even try.

Dale, I am enjoying it. Even if my post suggests otherwise.
And should you get around to finishing JPod, don't forget to go back and check out Barb's excellent conversation about it from last summer. Wavy swipe to flashback here.

Barbara, you were one of the Coupland fans to whom I was referring- glad you weighed in! Maybe I'll get around to Microserfs in the distant future.

Dale said...

I've yet to start JPod although I flipped through it and noticed all the typeface fun. That doesn't scare me much though after House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski which I really enjoyed.

I appreciate the wavy swipe. I'll have to decide whether to read it now or after I read the book but if Barbara's got anything to say, I'm powerless to resist.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks for the props, big guy! How did you manage to find that old review?

(I had forgotten all about the toilet paper conversation - haha)

John Mutford said...

Update: It is later revealed that Andrew decides Tobias is indeed a Gen Xer, though belonging to a yuppie-ish subgroup.