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kottke.org posts about George Saunders

George Saunders on “what writers really do when they write”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

From The Guardian, a typically illuminating piece from George Saunders on how he approaches writing…and more specifically how he approached writing a novel after so many years of writing short stories. Regarding the writer/reader connection:

This is a hopeful notion, because it implies that our minds are built on common architecture — that whatever is present in me might also be present in you. “I” might be a 19th-century Russian count, “you” a part-time Walmart clerk in 2017, in Boise, Idaho, but when you start crying at the end of my (Tolstoy’s) story “Master and Man”, you have proved that we have something in common, communicable across language and miles and time, and despite the fact that one of us is dead.

Another reason you’re crying: you’ve just realised that Tolstoy thought well of you — he believed that his own notions about life here on earth would be discernible to you, and would move you.

Tolstoy imagined you generously, you rose to the occasion.

We Work Remotely

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2017

George Saunders has written his first novel and it’s just as unusual as his short stories. Lincoln in the Bardo is historical fiction about Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his son Willie, who is caught between lives.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

Buzzfeed has an excerpt of the novel, which takes the form of a collection of quotes.

The boy, frustrated at being denied the attention he felt he deserved, moved in and leaned against his father, as the father continued to hold and gently rock the—
the reverend everly thomas

Sick-form.
hans vollman

At one point, moved, I turned away from the scene and found we were not alone.
roger bevins iii

A crowd had gathered outside.
the reverend everly thomas

All were silent.
roger bevins iii

As the man continued to gently rock his child.
the reverend everly thomas

While his child, simultaneously, stood quietly leaning against him.
hans vollman

Then the gentleman began to speak.
roger bevins iii

Time to bust out the Google Cardboard: the NY Times VR team adapted a part of the novel into a 10-minute VR film.

Here’s a good interview with Saunders about the book and a review by Colson Whitehead. The book has been hovering near the top of the Amazon best sellers list since its release — it was #2 when I looked yesterday but is currently 6th, right after Orwell’s 19841 — and I’ve seen several people in my Instagram feed reading it…or at least socially signaling that they’re reading it. ;)

  1. The current #1 is a hardcover strategy guide for a new Legend of Zelda game that doesn’t come out until next month.

A manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2016

In 2004, George Saunders wrote a article for Slate in the style of a manifesto for an organization called People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction. I believe Saunders’ piece has some relevance to current events.

At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man’s penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.

And in summary:

This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.

(via everything changes)

We’re in this crazy situation called life

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 22, 2015

Whether or not you’re a writer or even care about words, this video starring George Saunders talking about how to tell a story that matters is phenomenal. It was created by Redglass Pictures. (P.S. There’s swearing in it.)

(via Harry Allen)

George Saunders’ graduation address

posted by Sarah Pavis   Aug 05, 2013

George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University this past spring and it was recently republished in the New York Times. It touches on the nature of success and kindness.

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. […]

[A]ccomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended. […]

Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf - seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Cutting hard and deep with George Saunders

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2013

The Twitter is afire with rave reviews of Joel Lovell’s profile of writer George Saunders for the upcoming issue of the NY Times Magazine.

It is true that if there exists a “writer’s writer,” Saunders is the guy. “There is really no one like him,” Lorrie Moore wrote. “He is an original — but everyone knows that.” Tobias Wolff, who taught Saunders when he was in the graduate writing program at Syracuse in the mid-’80s, said, “He’s been one of the luminous spots of our literature for the past 20 years,” and then added what may be the most elegant compliment I’ve ever heard paid to another person: “He’s such a generous spirit, you’d be embarrassed to behave in a small way around him.”