A version of this post originally appeared on January 28, 2023.
George Saunders is in the very top echelon of my favorite writers. A literary fiction writer who leans hard into genre, he is arguably America's best contemporary short story writer, and his one novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, will stagger you. I'm getting into the yearly habit of reading him in January, to start the year out right. This year I read A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. It is not short stories nor a novel but... literary criticism! Of Russian literature!
I know this is going to be a hard sell, but stay with me here. The book is just astonishingly good. It's like being in the best graduate level English class, only you don't have to write papers or read Derrida. Saunders helps us dive into seven masterpieces, helping us as readers articulate why we respond to the writing, helping us as writers study the craft.
This book was such a joy. I kept making excuses to get to the audiobook--and please, if you're going to read this, consider going that route. Saunders narrates the discussion, while actors read the stories:
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.