Last summer I bypassed summer reading lists altogether. It seemed false to me. First of all, the whole idea that you only have time to read in the summer, as if the summer is this vast vacation landscape, the time when we are all rich and unemployed, rich with time at least, is very false, don't you think? On top of that, I was reading too many things I didn't want to share. I can be a stingy reader, not only as regards lending books, but as regards not discussing them. Most of the time, I prefer to digest their ideas alone. Consume their pleasures selfishly. Selfish to the bone.
So, now it is winter, and I am reading madly, thinking unselfishly of sharing some of my pleasures with my audience, because I am reading George Saunders, and he is a very unselfish man. He is not only unselfish, but terribly funny and brilliant, one of the best writers I have ever read, still alive.
He is a writer of short stories mainly and has such a wild way of thinking about things and such confidence throwing about his ideas that you feel you're with some kind of mad gymnast, who uses words in the most awesome fashion, so that he makes you think, right alongside with him, of things you normally don't ponder enough. He is not a gymnast the way John Updike was, so that you are in awe of the man's ability to flip vocabulary, but so you are in awe of his ideas and his original way of reaching both your heart and mind.
Saunders' two collections of short stories are: In Persuasion Nation and the recently published Tenth of December. His fiction is great. I saw him recently on Charlie Rose's TV show and noted that he is also a humble and kind man. Saunders is a writer who is also humble and kind. This was enough to set me straight on a course toward procuring his work. I have done little else but read it in the last three days.
Not surprisingly, as I am primarily a nonfiction writer myself, I have fallen in love with his essays, specifically The Braindead Megaphone, published in 2007. His writing puts me in such a state of alertness and hyper engagement that I am forced to read sections aloud. I paraded back and forth in the living room reading his essay on Dubai out loud, a hilarious and poignant examination of class and luxury, and those who have and those who have not. And I read aloud what is perhaps the most gorgeous essay on the love of writing that I have ever read, "Thank you Esther Forbes."
So, here I am sharing my winter list of one: George Saunders. Read him. You will feel brain and heart fed, alert and more intelligent after consuming his work. This I promise.