Friday, April 27, 2007

Reader's Diary #259- Douglas Coupland: Generation X, Tales For An Accelerated Culture (FINISHED)

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, even if I found it slightly depressing at times. Not Blindness-level depressing, but it did make me look a little more deeply about our (yes, I've lumped myself in with the Gen Xers) tendency to whine. But as my fondness for Blindness should prove, I'm not turned off by depressing topics- major or minor.

Coupland's writing style very much mirrors the time and people whom he is writing about. As such, I think he could have an easy time defending himself against critics. Not much of a plot? Such is the life of a Gen Xer. Story unfolds too slowly? Ditto. Short on character development? You see where I'm going with this.

I don't know if this is all intentional or if it's simply a convenience. Nor do I care. I do know that I enjoyed the book. It's fun but smart satire, and unlike most satire that seems to be coming out today, it's not overly mean. Sarcasm is fine, but Coupland is able to take off much of the edge of his brand by directing much of it at his main characters. Through these protagonists, he is able to take a few swipes at society at large, but he doesn't spare those making the observations either. The effect is the presentation of a generally flawed populace, but at least it's a sympathetic presentation. The superiority I alluded to in my last post about this book, was fortunately missing (or at least well hidden).

Two of the highlights for me include the definitions in the margins. Some of these were spot-on observations of Gen X philosophy and practice. For example, "Bread and Circuits: The electronic era tendency to view party politics as corny- no longer relevant or meaningful or useful to modern societal issues, and in many cases dangerous."

I also enjoyed how much Canadiana he was able to slip in. For a book set in California, with 2/3 of the main characters being American, Coupland sure gave away his Canadian roots. Asides from name-dropping Canadian cities, he even managed to work in a reference to a Hudson's Bay blanket. But from the glowing reviews on the back of my book by such American papers as the Sante Fe Reporter and the Los Angeles Times, the backbacon and maple syrup didn't seem to be an issue.

21 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

This is an excellent review, John. I think you have perfectly characterised why this book has such a great appeal. It speaks to the Gen Xers in all of us.

And I loved the Canadiana that he sneaked in as well.

Fearless said...

So, pretty much after reading this review and the last one my desire to read this book has gone from nil to when hell freezes over.

John Mutford said...

Oh oh, I've divided the masses! Right along the border, too.

Barbara, Thanks. Incidently have you ever checked the generations list in Wikipedia?According to that, my kids are in the New Silent Generation (or Generation Z). Apparently such kids share will share similarities with the former Silent Generation. If Gen Xers think they have it bad, they should try being "withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent".

Fearless, Yeah. It probably wouldn't be for everyone. Out of curiousity though, what did I say that least appeals to you? I'd also like to know what else is on that scale of yours, i.e., what comes after hell freezing over?

Allison said...

Divided the masses you have!

Having read some Coupland I may read this, however your criticism in the first review and the mention of the cyclical conversations has me doubting if I'd enjoy this book. I probably would though, because its his style the inevitably wins me over. The mention of definitions in the margins I can see myself enjoying. However, in some ways his stylistic devices can be a crutch...deviating away from actual plot.

Alison said...

We need more Gen Xer books!Thanks for the great review!

BlueRectangle Video Book Reviews

marydell said...

As an Xer wandering through life with no idea of my purpose, I've had this book sitting in a pile for a long time. Being so aimless, it's no surprise that I haven't gotten around to it yet. Since you enjoyed it, maybe my purpose should be to read it.

Fearless said...

Having been born in the early 60's, Coupland is an outsider looking in, and frankly the definitions in the margins remind me of when the reporter from the NY Times called someone at Caroline records and asked them for the hot "grunge speak". Bread and Circuits? I know it's fiction but it really strikes me as someone who is trying too hard to be a part of something he has no clue about.

As for the scale, you really don't want to know what's after Hell Freezes Over, it's not pleasant...

Dale said...

Nice review John, I liked Blindness too. Currently I'm reading, not that you asked, The Agony and The Esctasy by Irving Stone and enjoying it. I have so many books piled up, it's daunting.

John Mutford said...

Allison, There are parts I can see people being bored with or taking exception to, and there are parts I can see people enjoying. I guess it just comes down to personal preferences. I'd have a real difficult time deciding who I would/ wouldn't recommend this one to.

Faux-Alison, I realize this probably constitutes Spam, but it's another Book Review place so I'm going to allow it (just this once). I don't think I'll be doing a video review anytime soon though, for now I'd settle for the radio.

Marydell, if you do, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Fearless, Wikipedia's generational lists are a mess. In one spot it says Generation X starts with those born in 1963, another at 66, and another as early as 1960. By this last one, Coupland (born in 1961) would fit. As I implied earlier, I think that we can't take a whole lot of stock into the descriptors anyway. But for the purpose of the book, I guess we need to "believe" in the term for the time being. And in that context, Coupland seems to show Gen X as more of a mindset than a birth year descriptor. In that regard, Coupland could possibly have the same mindset without having been born late enough. By some definitions I'm a Gen Xer, and by others I belong to the MTV Generation. Still, I felt I could relate to the characters in this book (often to my chagrin).

Dale, Thanks. I know what you mean by books piling up. In that way, they're a lot like dirty laundry or lies.

Fearless said...

Why would you believe anything you found on wikipedia??

From my understanding when the term Gen-X was coined it meant anyone who was between the ages of 16 and 25 in 1990.

Allison said...

All this Coupland talk is following me. I was just reading a review in the paper on a film he wrote called, "Everything's Gone Green" and the tagline reads "A capitalistic comedy that asks the question - when is "enough" enough?"

I found this amusing. Film looks pretty lackluster.

John Mutford said...

Fearless, You're absolutely right about trusting Wikipedia of course. But in their defense, they acknowledge the problem with their "list of generations" page. There are three disclaimers right at the beginning of the article saying that the facts have been disputed, it may require clean up, and it may not represent a worldwide view. Obviously everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Such is the problem with subjective labels anyway. And just qualifying the term "Generation X" by year of birth, is still subjective when one asks why these particular years should matter, or differentiate any one group from another. Anyway, since we're on the topic of Wikipedia, it says "[in his book, Generation X] Coupland referred to those born from 1958 to 1966 in Canada or from 1958 to 1964 in the United States." It goes on to say that "Coupland maintains that the book was meant to show the lack of a single description for it." Again though, these might just be conveniences so that he could include himself, much like the comedian on Seinfeld who converted to Judaism just so he could get away with telling Jewish jokes.

Allison, Have you seen "Souvenir of Canada"? It was okay, but it wasn't as good as the book(s). They're turning the oddest books into movies lately. Even "Fast Food Nation". Is "Everything's Gone Green" based on a book?

Allison said...

No, I have not seen "Souvenir of Canada." I heard rumblings, then it dropped off my radar. Yes, I read Fast Food Nation was going to be a film, I wish they wouldn't do that. As far as I know, "Everything's Gone Green" is not a book, just a film that he wrote.

Out of interest I looked up on Wikipedia 'Generation Y' and it gave me the "This article may require cleanup to meet quality standards", and then it also reminded me that I'm in the "Boomerang Generation." How fitting seeing as I'm going back with the parentals for the summer. Argh, labels.

Fearless said...

1958-1966?? Well, now I am completely convinced that Coupland is full of crap and I won't bother reading this or any of his other books.

John Mutford said...

Allison, I saw and read Fast Food Nation. Again, the book was better. The acting in Fast Food Nation was fantastic, but the storylines were a bit of a mess.

Boomeranging doesn't include summers, does it?

Fearless, Hah! Boycotts are too passive. May I suggest a flaming bag of dog poop on his doorstep?

Fearless said...

The boycott works for me, I know he doesn't care but I am plenty happy to not read his crappy novels. Although, to be fair, he probably wasn't going for facts, just truthiness.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness

Dale said...

I was disappointed a bit in the film Souvenir of Canada so maybe I should have picked that book up. Fast Food Nation I loved but I was horrified to hear about the movie and the way they were presenting it.

John Mutford said...

Fearless, I'm a Colbert fan, but I missed the whole Truthiness thing. Now I'll be hoping to work that into conversation. Great term, thanks for the link. I can see how it applies to Coupland (or your perceptions of him!).

Dale, the Souvenir book wasn't the best book ever, but it's a pleasant bathroom read. I haven't read Souvenir 2.

Fearless said...

I heard they were calling the movie "Souvenir 2: The Re-souvenirening!"

John Mutford said...

Fearless, Actually the movie (documentary of sorts) was based on both books. But I still wouldn't rule out a prequel.

LD/Brownie said...

It's been an extremely long time, but I do remember liking it. It spurred me to read a few of his others: Microserfs, Girlfriend in a Coma, Shampoo Planet, and Eleanor Rigby. Of the four, I liked Girlfriend the most -- I must've been in an apocalyptic mood at the time. I found Microserfs funny, and remember virtually nothing about Shampoo Planet except thinking it sucked.

Eleanor Rigby is of a different stripe. It doesn't try so hard. It's not out to define a generation or blow your mind. It's a much gentler tale. While I liked it, it doesn't stand out from the masses.