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Posts Tagged ‘George Saunders’

What We’re Loving: Algiers, Aliens, Adulthood

July 25, 2014 | by

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George Saunders talks to an alien. Detail from an illustration by Thomas Allen, in O, the Oprah Magazine.

I went on vacation planning to read Tristram Shandyat last. Instead I read Frank Kermode on “Modernisms,” most of The Rise of the Novel (including the chapter on Tristram Shandy), and half the Selected Poems of Howard Moss. Total reading time: not much. But it was choice. Then I got home and found The New Yorker in my mailbox. Greg Jackson’s “Wagner in the Desert” is the best fiction debut they’ve published in years. The story belongs to an ancient genre: young, rich people hole up in a country house to avoid the plague. In this case, the country house is a rental in Palm Springs, the plague is adulthood, and the hosts are a Hollywood couple about to start fertility treatments, hoping to get their ya-yas out in a mindful, caring way. Jackson knows his antecedents. He has metabolized Ben Lerner and David Foster Wallace. He can throw in a blank verse, like Melville, to heighten a scene. He even steals, without attribution, from Kenny Rogers. I read “Wagner in the Desert” my first night back, fell asleep, and dreamed I was in the story (and also back in elementary school, getting a lesson in the story) then woke up and read it again, with no diminution of enjoyment. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been reading Adam Shatz’s very smart account of how reporting on the Middle East cured him of political romanticism. I suspect he’s not alone in this experience: “When I finally began to spend time in the place about which I had pontificated for so long, I discovered that I was much more interested in what the people I met had to say than in my own views.” My favorite parts are Shatz’s trips to Algiers—“a city I knew mostly from Gillo Pontecorvo’s film”—and his interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. It’s a sobering essay, and a timely one for this low point (after a very high one) in the history of the region. —Robyn Creswell

In this month’s O, The Oprah Magazine, George Saunders explains to a space alien what it means to be human. His explanation takes the form of a series of short-story recommendations, of course. Drawing on diverse selections from Chekhov to Hemingway to Lahiri, he covers the basics of love, loneliness, greed, kindness, death, and empathy. The essay’s a gem, a genuine love letter to reading as a noble pursuit. Saunders says it best: “Short stories are the deep, encoded crystallizations of all human knowledge. They are rarefied, dense meaning machines, shedding light on the most pressing of life’s dilemmas. By reading a thoughtfully selected set of them, our alien could, in a few hours, learn everything he needs to know about the way we live. Except how it feels to lose one’s car in a parking garage and walk around for like three hours, trying to look as if you know where you’re going, so the people driving by—who have easily found their cars, having written the location on their wrists or something—don’t think badly of you. I don’t think there’s a short story about that yet.” —Chantal McStay

Another thing I did on vacation was see The Shining for the first time in a couple of decades. This, unfortunately, was the director’s cut, in which Jack Nicholson has several long, boring conversations with ghosts. But even the scary parts weren’t scary anymore. To hear J. D. Daniels tell it in the new issue of Flaunt, I’d rather have seen the documentary Room 237—at least, if I got to see it with J. D. Daniels: “Room 237 is about unhinged Stanley Kubrick fanatics … Each of them thinks The Shining is a coded message. One participant believes The Shining is Kubrick’s confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo 11 moon landing. Have you seen The Shining? It’s about an axe murderer. It’s about 145 minutes long.” —L.S.
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How Your Gender Affects Your Vocabulary, and Other News

June 24, 2014 | by

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Hans Thoma, Adam and Eve, 1897.

  • George Saunders talks “about his family’s sense of humor, the connection between satire and compassion, his early comedy influences, and how he came to embrace the funny side of his writing.”
  • Some words that men are likelier to know than women: claymore, scimitar, solenoid, dreadnaught. Some words that women are likelier to know than men: taffeta, flouncing, bodice, progesterone. The conclusions are yours to draw.
  • I Was a Digital Best Seller”—the horrifying true story!
  • It sounds like a spinoff of DeLillo’s The Names: a journalist named Rose Eveleth becomes obsessed with a small town that shares her name: Eveleth, Minnesota. She visits it only using Google Street View.
  • Spending time with Prince at a listening party for his new record: “When you arrive at Paisley Park, you switch to Prince time. After nearly an hour’s wait, I was ushered into Studio B [at] about one a.m. … My next two hours at Paisley Park would be filled with funk, frustration, and funny lines—all courtesy of Prince.”

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Listening to Stonehenge, and Other News

March 11, 2014 | by

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Photo: The Stonehenge Stone Circle, via Flickr

 

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Gchatting with George Saunders

December 23, 2013 | by

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All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

On Valentine’s Day, George Saunders agreed to Gchat with The Paris Review Daily to discuss his use of the modern vernacular in fiction; his new book, Tenth of December; as well as Nicki Minaj and what is, according to Saunders, one of the great undernarrrated pleasures of living.

 

George: Hi Katherine - ready on this end when you are

me: Hi George!
I am prepared

George: Well, I’m not sure I am. But I am willing. :)

me: we could just do the whole thing as emoticons

:/ :l :?

George: Man, you are a virtuosiii of emoticons.

me: A symptom of my generation...

George: I only know that one.

me: You only know happiness, then.

George: No - I only know the SYMBOL for happiness. Like, I can’t do ENNUI. Read More »

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Jumping Off a Cliff: An Interview with Kevin Barry

November 12, 2013 | by

Photo Credit:  Murdo Macleod

Photo credit: Murdo Macleod.

It is common, when assessing the achievements of a fiction writer, to consider how “well-rounded” his or her characters are. But one of the many pleasures of Kevin Barry’s work, and in particular of his most recent collection, Dark Lies The Island, is that it reminds us how—in fiction as in life—the most interesting people are often lopsided.

In a Barry story, people fuck up and then, after taking a breather, they fuck up some more. A guy walks out of a juvenile detention center and—fresh start!—concludes it’s a grand idea to start selling crystal meth. A boy on a rooftop thinks about kissing a girl, and keeps on thinking about it, and thinking about it, until hesitancy has nuked opportunity. In one of the collection’s most gnawingly memorable stories, “Ernestine and Kit,” the reader is presented with two chatty, unremarkable middle-aged women on a road-trip. The stage seems set for a warm story of female bonding. Only gradually, with slow dread, do we begin to read the cruel slant of their thoughts: they are predators planning to snatch a child.

Although he’s not averse to the occasional earnest moment of romance, Barry’s usual mode is laughter in the dark. Writers producing work in this vein are not, these days, a publisher’s dream. There is therefore something comforting in the way he’s finding an admiring, expanding audience both in his native Ireland and here in the U.S. After years of producing work he was unhappy with (“I wrote these great sententious sentences, clause after clause after clause under a black belly of fucking cloud”) his first major breakthrough came in 2007, when he won the Rooney Prize for Literature for There Are Little Kingdoms. That story collection had been released by a tiny Dublin literary press called The Stinging Fly. His first novel, City of Bohane, appeared in the UK in 2011 and went on to win the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. When Graywolf Press gave the book an American release it graced the cover of the New York Times Book Review and was hailed by the reviewer as a novel “full of marvels … marvels of language, invention, surprise.”

Ale is one of Barry’s enthusiasms. The interview which follows took place over pints at Flatbush Farm, a bar in Brooklyn. He’s a keen, wide-eyed talker who’s always pushing at the limits of what a curse word can do. He injects bright life into a conversation and occasionally ad-libs the kinds of observations you underline in his books. In Dark Lies The Island, breakfast involves “scraping an anti-death spread the colour of Van Gogh’s sunflowers onto a piece of nine-grain artisanal toast.” The summer staff at an old hotel include “a pack of energetic young Belarusians, fucking each other at all angles of the clock.” The sky at night “shucked the last of its evening grey” and “the buck in the kiosk at the clampers had a face on him like a dose of cancer.” Barry’s language drags you into a strange, darkly lyrical world, enacting his own definition of literature as a mode of transport. “It lifts you up out of whatever situation you’re in and it puts you down somewhere else,” he says below. “It fucking escapes you. That’s what literature is.” Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Roller Skates, Arson, Eliot

August 9, 2013 | by

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Just this morning, I read eagerly through Sam Anderson’s profile of Gary England, Oklahoma’s “benevolent weather god,” in a preview from this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. I’ve heard a lot about England—chief meteorologist for Oklahoma City’s Channel 9—over the years from my husband, a native of that lonely corner of the state where the panhandle begins (his hometown of Woodward was hit in 1947 by one of the state’s worst tornadoes). England’s a hero in that part of the country. “It’s Friday night in the big town” is how he would start his end-of-the-week broadcasts, and though I wish Anderson’s article had given us a bit more of England himself, it’s a bittersweet, if subtle, encomium to a bygone time in which weather forecasters weren’t entertainers as much as they were, well, weather forecasters. —Nicole Rudick

It sounds pretty soft, doesn’t it, a book about reading Middlemarch. Might as well write a book about loving the Beatles, or how Proust can change your life. But Rebecca Mead is tough-minded and has a reporter’s impatience with mush. In My Life in Middlemarch, she gives us several unlikely things at once—a lively reading of George Eliot’s novel, an intimate portrait of Eliot herself, and a book about the consolations of getting older. As Mead shows, this is one of Eliot’s great themes, for as Eliot told her diary, “Few women, I fear, have had such reasons as I have to think the long sad years of youth worth living for the sake of middle age.” —Lorin SteinRead More »

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