book reviews, books, champaign, country life, david sedaris, george saunders, krannert center, libraries, lincoln in the bardo, Parnassus, pygmalion festival, school, tenth of december, the braindead meagphone, Travel, University of Illinois
Pygmalion Festival– a festival in which authors such as George freaking Saunders and Anthony Marra make their way to the middle of nowhere to discuss works of absolute genius! When I first moved to Champaign in 2013, I cried at the thought of living in the country and yet now, Champaign stands out in the distance as an urban mecca in the middle of the cornfields in which I now find myself. The “real country” surrounds me. A place of mice smushed in almost comical running man positions on the cement outside gas stations that sell pizza and breadsticks with nacho cheese. A place in which an ordinary trip to the winery results in the viewing of a cat parading across the grass, mouse in mouth, as it slowly devours its prey, bones and all, amidst the shrieks of people leaping up on picnic tables as if their very lives could be saved if only their feet would avoid touching the ground. Its theatrics were unnerving. A place in which despite the mice and breadsticks with nacho cheese, I have found my home. A home in which weekdays and weekends are equally loved because my heart is so full of love for my school that sometimes, it hurts. A home in which although I live in an absolute state of bliss the entire summer, I miss my work family so incredibly much and rejoice when I am able to touch base via Facebook, summer book clubs, or random appearances at Project Kid Tech events. There is so much to love about this place: the nature, the people, the libraries. And so I carry on- traveling for author events, watching far too many interviews on YouTube, and sustaining my soul with the monthly book deliveries from Parnassus Books in Nashville.
Then came the day I met George Saunders. Hearing he was coming to town, I made the thirty minute drive to the University of Illinois, book in hand, to wait outside the Colwell Playhouse at Krannert Center. I should note that I have a great deal of experience at author events, enough to
almost always be first in line and secure the very best seat in the house. I make the line, every time. Quite a ways into my waiting time (in which I was still the lone person waiting and thus, not exactly making the line) a woman walked up asking if I was Megan. I told her my name and then looked to the man standing to her right, GEORGE freaking SAUNDERS! I smiled and thanked him for coming to Champaign. He said it was no problem, shook my hand and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m George.” I tried to remain calm and not laugh at his introduction, as if I didn’t know who he was. Certain behaviors must be performed out of politeness rather than an actual need to know someone’s name. George and I talked for around five minutes until the infamous ‘Megan’ arrived. We talked about Chicago, his daughter, our love for Ann Patchett, books… It was only after he was fully inside the theatre that I let myself freak out like a crazy fan girl immediately posting on Instagram and calling my mom, because who else do you call in a moment like that?
Finally three other people joined me in line (one of whom I became friends with for the evening) and we made our way inside the theater. George read aloud, Nick Offerman skyped in, and George signed my copies of Tenth of December and The Braindead Megaphone all while discussing teaching and how lucky my school was to have me (I should have asked him to put that in writing- surely great evidence for the Danielson Framework). Alas, I already owned a signed copy of Lincoln in the Bardo (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year) thanks to Cat and the other staff at Parnassus or I would have picked up that book too! Then I returned to my little apartment in the country and spent the next week stealing chunks of time to read the two books I purchased.
I am a huge fan of books of essays, but reading the title essay from The Braindead Megaphone is certainly the best I’ve read in a long, long while. It’s entertaining, and so true to the situation we find ourselves in. I will not say more. Everyone must read it immediately, this is not a drill!
Like Lincoln in the Bardo, The Tenth of December is best read in its audiobook format by the author himself. The book is so dark and yet humor pours through making it bearable and thought provoking, poking fun at typical American life. George Saunders is a highbrow David Sedaris– if you will.
So start with “The Braindead Megaphone” essay, today’s essential reading, and then go get yourself an audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo to savor the performance of 166 actors for tonight’s audio theatre. That my friends, will consist of your introduction to George Saunders!