Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Generation whatever

On Saturday, I went to the big Barnes and Noble at the Third Street promenade in Santa Monica, which I guess is just a Barnes and Noble like the one by my house, but it’s got the weird art deco letters on the outside, and I always go there when I’m at the promenade, which is about as stupid as making a special trip to a specific McDonald’s as part of an OCD ritual, when there are a million other locations putting out the same shit.  I also had a $25 gift card to use.  Anyway, I ended up leaving with a couple of books, one of which was Douglas Coupland’s Generation A, which I proceeded to read over the rest of the short trip this weekend.

The book wasn’t bad, a quick read.  I think every review said it mirrors Generation X, but I found it to be a much different type of book.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the former book in forever, but I seem to remember it as more of a series of transgressive vignettes that mostly bitch about how the hyper-accelerated culture of the post-boomer generation is… whatever.  This book seemed to have more of a story behind it, a thriller about five people who get stung by bees after bees are extinct, and how everyone is addicted to this new psych med.  The plot got a little stupid by the end, but it really made me miss Coupland’s writing style.  He’s an observationalist, and can really nail these little asides about life, in the way a comedian can in their material.  I don’t have any huge examples of this, but that’s the point; he dials in these little beats about the things his characters observe, and I always like how he can do that.

I think I got into Coupland’s stuff right around the time I left Bloomington, at the apex of the whole Generation X marketing movement.  It was a weird time, when grunge was alive (or was it dead by then?) and heavy metal was dead and everyone who was into heavy metal told the same stupid joke-slash-observation about how “alternative” wasn’t an “alternative” if it was mainstream.  I used to read Details magazine, I think because I bought a copy with an article by Henry Rollins, and I used to scan their various marketing manifestos of what items you were required to buy or consume if you were Generation X.  I used to think a lot of it was stupid, like that I’d spend $700 on a watch that did the same thing as a $19 casio from the drug store, but they also had some author interviews and book reviews that led me to stuff like David Foster Wallace.

I got into writing in part because of Rollins and his spoken word, but that led me to Henry Miller, and then Bukowski and Kerouac, and all of that made me feel like I needed to find some lifestyle or youth movement or culture, and I knew it wasn’t listening to John Mellencamp and getting blackout drunk on cheap domestics, so I knew it involved leaving Indiana.  So I fell into reading Coupland’s stuff, and I think I read all of his books within a week.  I remember the exact week, because it was right after Larry left Bloomington for Texas.  He left behind an apartment with a month of rent on it, and told me to use it for writing or whatever the hell, and I was trying to pick at my first book, along with filling up the spiral notebooks with whatever came to my head.  And right after that, I was driving over to his place on a Saturday morning, and my car died – it threw the timing belt, and I had to tow it to this repair place out by College Mall.  I walked to Morgenstern’s books, bought all three of his books, then walked to Larry’s place and sat on the floor to read.

For a good chunk of my college experience, I walked everywhere.  But then I got this car in 1994, and spent all year driving everywhere, or sometimes driving nowhere, doing lazy loops around the campus while listening to whatever death metal album I was into that week.  Not having the car made me feel like I was regressing, because I had to pound the pavement with the Reeboks, except now I was out of shape, and didn’t have a nice walkman anymore, and hoofed it in silence.  Plus I now lived way the hell west of campus, which meant a long day of walking.  I really absorbed those books, and they made me want to leave Indiana more than ever.  I didn’t know that a month later, I’d be in Seattle, interviewing for a job that I would get, that would relocate me 2400 miles away and into this world not far removed from the fictional places in his novels.

I should probably re-read Generation X now.  I am guessing it has not aged well, but to be fair, neither have I.