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March 18, 2012 / Rachel Bednarski

30 Day Book Meme: Day 10 – A Book That Changed My Life and Why You Should Read it

 So, continuing with this increasingly sporadic meme…

 

Generally, I consider it quite melodramatic to credit any one single thing as having changed your life. I think life-changing things tend to occur more progressively than that. Yet if I were to suggest that a single work of fiction changed my life, as I am about to do, I would have to bestow that honour upon (This is the last time I include this novel in an answer to this meme, I have just realised I have mentioned it a LOT and that I am dangerously close to preaching.) Douglas Coupland’s Generation X.

 

I was drawn in by the novel’s fluro-pink cover, which, of course, was Coupland’s intention: attract the masses with a nice bright colour then smack them in the face with the realisation of what they’re doing wrong in their accelerated lives.

It worked.

Generation X is one of those books you find yourself returning to, one of those books that you need to return to, when the superficial problems of capitalism and the technological age begin to feel like real problems. We are increasingly subjected to a surplus of information that invades and dominates both our internal and external worlds – sometimes I feel as though I myself am made of pixels, that I can Google where I left my door keys. We exist in a saturated and persepective-less hyperreal world.

The sudden and dominating rise in consumer and media culture has introduced a whole new concept of individuality. Our identities are largely constructed around the attainment of commodities and the maintaining of constructed personalities through social media. Everything has become instant and easy and we no longer have to work for anything, and that is what has come to distinguish our generation from those hardworking, war-influenced generations before us.

 

 

The characters of Generation X decide that they don’t want to partake in this hyperreality and so abscond to the Nevada desert in search of a simpler, more meaningful life, and to tell stories to rediscover their humanity and spirituality.

 

Coupland’s writing is synonymous with the wandering, new-lost generation and is a challenging force in directing our attentions to the changes taking place in contemporary culture and how these changes are affecting our human relationships.

What had the most enduring influence on me is the manner in which the novel exposes the great paradox of consumer ideology; the belief that individuality can be sourced from the accumulation of commodities, when in fact, passive consumption is complicit in the deconstruction of creativity and personal identity. The collapsing of the boundary between high and low culture and the subsequent dominance of mass culture which only allows for individuality within a specific, dumbed-down framework. Coupland’s cutting use of satire really stresses the unimportance and frivolity of modern life when compared with the wholesome immaterial lives and compelling relationships of Andy, Dag and Claire. When money and objects begin to seem too important, when I’ve spent just a little too much time online, I always return to my copy of Generation X to remind me of what life really is about, and that the most valuable experiences can’t be bought.

 

 

We shouldn’t feel defined by our careers, by our bank-balance, or how many followers we have on Twitter. Real, valuable life experience is not measured in these ways. And, of course, we all know this, we just need reminding sometimes.

I will leave you with the words of a very wise person, who I think sums up the premise of Generation X better than I ever could:

 

You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth.

But that’s all.

Dear Sugar, The Rumpus 

 

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