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From the New York Times bestselling, Booker Prize–winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December comes a literary master class on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about ourselves—and our world today.
For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times.
In his introduction, Saunders writes, “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?” He approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft, but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.
About the Author
George Saunders is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of ten books, including Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the Man Booker Prize; Congratulations, by the way; Tenth of December, a finalist for the National Book Award; The Braindead Megaphone; and the critically acclaimed short story collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, and In Persuasion Nation. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.
Praise for George Saunders
“Nothing has been read its last rites more frequently than the American short story. George Saunders proves, yet again, to be the form’s one-man defibrillator.”—Harper’s Magazine
“No one writes more powerfully than George Saunders about the lost, the unlucky, the disenfranchised.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Saunders makes you feel as though you are reading fiction for the first time.”—Khaled Hosseini
“One of the most gifted, wickedly entertaining story writers around.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Subversive, hilarious, and emotionally piercing . . . Few writers can encompass that range of adjectives, but Saunders is a true original—restlessly inventive, yet deeply humane.”—Jennifer Egan
“The best short-story writer in English—not ‘one of,’ not ‘arguably,’ but the Best.”—Mary Karr, Time
Praise for Lincoln in the Bardo
“It’s not like anything anyone has written before. The author may have set out to write his first novel, but the work he completed is a genre unto itself.”—The Atlantic
“A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.”—Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review
“Depicts a ferocious, keenly felt, and sometimes comic struggle. . . . Lincoln in the Bardo has great matters on its mind: freedom and slavery, the spirit and the body.”—Thomas Mallon, The New Yorker
“A strikingly original production . . . that confounds our expectations of what a novel should look and sound like.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Fans of Saunders’s stories—some of the most original work in American history—have craved this book for a long time, and he has not disappointed. Saunders has disassembled the novel as a form and put it back together in a fascinating shape.”—John Freeman, The Boston Globe