21 September 2010

Generation X by Douglas Coupland

Thoughts and Reflections:
This book has been on my reading list for what feels like years, but for whatever reason I never seemed to get around to reading it. Last Christmas, I was reminded of the novel when it was declared one of the top books of the 1990s by the Globe and Mail. Still, it took me until this summer to get to reading it. From the very moment I opened this book, I enjoyed it. The note to detail was excellent without boring the reader with specifics. The author, down to the layout, book art, illustrations, and aesthetic, created a novel that screamed popular youth culture. I found I was quickly caught up in the characters and setting, feeling like I was right there with them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was both amused and bemused by the characters. I would laugh at them, wonder about them, but also strongly related to them. The story follows the lives of three characters: Andy, Dag, and Claire. In general, these characters have fled from their families, their high paying, but drab jobs, and attempted to escape societal norms. Minimalism, environmentalism, and a general sense of doom/futurelessness are essential in their personal philosophies. To these, the future was bleak, yet somehow they manage to hack out some kind of happy existence and community in the midst of a harsh society. The characters attack those who living within societal norms unquestioningly, "using all that was good in themselves just to make money." They also mock those who pretend (wittingly or not) to live outside popular culture, but are only doing so for the fashion/popular counter cultural element. For instance, the terms conscious and cafe minimalism were used. Conscious minimalism refers to a life style tactic of non-ownership of material goods, which a person flaunts as a token of moral and intellectual superiority. Cafe Minimalism is someone who espouses the philosophy of minimalism without actually putting into practice any of its tenets.

A defining feature of these characters are their restlessness. This is absolutely something I can relate to! The characters have fled one life for another, believing it to be one of fulfilment and happiness. However, before too long, they are again restless and seeking change. For all their efforts to have a calm life, a life without complication and drama, they are unable to exist in such calm.

Terminal Wanderlust: a condition common to people of transient middle-class upbringings. Unable to feel rooted in any one environment, they move continually in the hopes of finding an idealised sense of community in the next location. 

I admit, I was moderately disappointed when I discovered that the book would be taking place in California, rather than some Canadian destination, such as Vancouver, the home of the author. However, the disappointment didn't last. I quickly felt I could relate or at least understand the situations of the characters and the location didn't seem as important as the attitudes of the characters.

The wit and language of the novel were consistent with the characters, the setting, and the popular culture vibe that the author was striving for. Often, I had no idea what the meaning of some of the phrases or references of the character, though I don't doubt someone of that generation would catch and appreciate them!

All in all, I was super impressed by Douglas Coupland and this novel. I love the characters, their story, the aesthetic and layout of the novel, everything. I heard this was one of his best, but, if you like his writing, that all his books are an excellent read. I look forward to diving more into his works and am thinking I may just read JPod in not too long.

Points of Interest:
Generation X is the generation that follows the Baby Boomer generation. The years of birth delineating Generation X varies. Usually, however, people born between 1964 and the late 70s, no later than 1981 are considered to be Generation X. Generation X most strongly affected popular culture between the late 1980s and early 1990s. This generation is known for feeling alienated and disenfranchised by the cultural icons of the time and disillusioned with the societal status quo. The grunge band Nirvana is considered to be the band most associated with Generation X. The term 'Generation X' was coined by Jane Deverson in an article on British teenagers in Women's Own magazine in 1964.

About the Author:
Douglas Coupland, a Canadian author, was born on a Canadian Air Force base in Germany in 1961. His family relocated to Vancouver, BC in 1965, where Douglas Coupland still lives with his partner. Initially, Coupland set out to study the sciences at McGill University, but quit after his first year to study art and design at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver. He graduated in 1984 with a focus on sculpture. He has also traveled to Milan, Italy and Sapporo, Japan in his studies of art. After working as a designer in Tokyo, Japan, Coupland returned to Vancouver to write for a magazine and continue with his art. Writing for the magaize entered him into the world of writing, a field in which he is still active. Generation X, published in 1991, was his first novel.  Since then, he has published a number of fiction and non-fiction books. His works provide an interesting commentary on North American mass culture, earning him recognition as one of the most gifted writers of popular culture today.

Here is a link to an interesting interview with the author in 2009 by The Guardian.
And here is a link to his website.

Things I Loved about This Novel:
1. How accurate the book is regarding mass culture. I find popular youth culture absolutely fascinating and this book fed that interest wonderfully well.

2. The characters. They were characters I could relate to, they were average folks trying to figure out this life, they were quirky, and they were both likable and unlikable. The author created convincing characters and allowed the reader to really get into their personalities and minds, which led to a very interesting discussion of pop culture.

3. I enjoyed the definitions and cultural comics in the margins of the book. This offered still more light into the novel's setting as well as created a youth/pop-cultural feel/aesthetic. Well done and convincing.

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