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Jia Tolentino Wants You to Read Children’s Books - The New York Times
““A really good middle-grade novel,” says the New Yorker essayist, whose debut collection is “Trick Mirror,” “will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.”

What books are on your nightstand?

When I like a book, I carry it around everywhere until I finish it, like a subway rat dragging a slice of pizza down the stairs. So usually if a book is living on my nightstand, it’s not my thing. Right now, though, I’ve got a galley of Anna Wiener’s “Uncanny Valley” keeping me company — it’s so deft and stunning that I started rereading chunks of it as soon as I was done.

What’s the last book that really excited you?

“Death’s End,” the final installment of Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, in which the narrative and conceptual momentum of the series takes off at a scale and velocity I couldn’t possibly have imagined before reading. The Three-Body trilogy makes insignificance and unknowability and futility seem so spiritually exciting that I felt breathless. I’d join a book club that just discusses it every month for a year.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me” won the Newbery Medal, so it’s certainly not unheralded, but everyone tunes me out when I recommend it, since it was written for kids. Their mistake! A really good middle-grade novel — and this book, a “Wrinkle in Time”-esque mystery set on the Upper West Side in the late 1970s, is a phenomenal one — will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

“Random Family,” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It’s so spicy, so riveting, so empathetic and devoted, so alive in the world as it actually is. No shots to Chaucer and “A Separate Peace” and all that, but I think a lot of people might be far more interested in reading (and possibly more interested in other lives in general) if they got to read books like this in high school.

What book would you recommend to people over 40?

“Kids These Days,” by Malcolm Harris. Most writing about millennials has tended to focus on effects rather than causes: After all, it’s easier to make a spectacle of the ways instability manifests itself in young people than it is to really reckon with the fact that capitalism has reached a stage of inexorable acceleration that has broken our country’s institutions and (arguably) my generation’s soul. “Kids These Days,” thankfully, goes straight for the point.

[ Tolentino’s new book, “Trick Mirror,” was one of our most anticipated titles of August. See the full list. ]

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Ocean Vuong, Jenny Odell, Doreen St. Félix, Vinson Cunningham, Bryan Washington, Tommy Orange, Jenny Zhang, Ross Gay, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Emily Nussbaum, Rebecca Traister, Brit Bennett, Caity Weaver, Rachel Aviv, Kathryn Schulz, Pamela Colloff, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Patrick Radden Keefe, Patricia Lockwood, Samantha Irby, Leslie Jamison, Lauren Groff, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wesley Morris, Meg Wolitzer, Marlon James, Ted Chiang, Eula Biss.

You once described yourself as “an obsessive and catholic reader.” What moves you most in a work of literature?

Bravery and surrender, which can manifest in so many forms.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a purely emotional or purely intellectual reaction to anything, let alone to anything I was reading. Systems and concepts are always inextricable from the way they shape our hearts, and I love books that demonstrate this, like Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” or George Saunders’s “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

From Casey Cep’s “Furious Hours,” that Harper Lee was once neighbors with Daryl Hall and John Oates. What?!

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I’ll read almost anything, though I don’t love reading about history and science as much as I love whatever I learn. The only books I actively avoid are the “how X explains all of human civilization” books — the type seemingly written for men who love a counterintuitive idea but find complex thought disturbing — as well as those “how to be a perfectly imperfect goddess who doesn’t give a f**k” books. I don’t like anything with a sales pitch that’s like, “Hey, you’re a woman!” These books feel like dolls of Frida Kahlo dressed as Rosie the Riveter or something, like display objects that chirp the word “badass” when you press their hand.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

My boyfriend got me a first edition of Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” — one of my favorite books of all time — about seven years ago, and this past year, he gave me a copy of “Eve’s Hollywood” with a note in it for me from Eve Babitz herself. I almost keeled over on the spot.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Turtle Wexler from “The Westing Game” and Undine Spragg from “The Custom of the Country.”

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I would read while Rollerblading around my neighborhood, read while eating, read in the car, read in the bathtub — my books were stained, swollen, ripped to shreds. I was always just desperate to be constantly reading. I’d memorize the copy on the Herbal Essences bottle in the shower; I read “Gone With the Wind” about 20 times in fourth grade. I remember things from kids’ books much more clearly than I remember anything about my life even a few years ago. I’ve got a mental encyclopedia of useless sensory details: the lavender-and-black bathroom in “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself,” the tin peddler’s wares in “Farmer Boy,” the meals that Francie Nolan helped her mother make from stale bread.

You’re a digital native, and your publisher describes you as “what Susan Sontag would have been like if she had brain damage from the internet.” Do you find it difficult to tune out distractions and sink into a book?

In part because I am very aware of what the internet is doing to my sense of scale and reason, I spend a good amount of my life seeking out states of being — like reading — that are so consuming and pleasurable that I won’t grab my phone and interrupt. It also helps that for most of my life I’ve read a paper book for an hour or two every night before falling asleep: It was always a way of managing my insomnia, which I’ve had since I was little, and is now a regular reminder of how much more like myself I feel when I’m not shattering my attention to bits.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

There are plenty of beloved books I don’t like at all — the most demographically fine-tuned version of this for me is probably Chris Kraus’s “I Love Dick.” But I have a hard time accessing a sense of “supposed to” with pop culture. I read whatever I feel like reading, and if neither the book nor my reaction to it interests me, I put it down without another thought. I’m a big believer, anyway, that reading is like eating: The most fun lies in finding a match for your mood. If I read 20 pages of something people love and I can’t get into it, then I welcome the possibility that a few years from now it could be the perfect thing.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Nearly everything about being alive feels embarrassing, but the enormous gap between what I’d like to have read and what I have actually read does not. As it is, I read a hundred books a year and it doesn’t seem to matter — there will always be so many books I haven’t read yet, and I will always be kind of stupid no matter how much I read. For example, I only recently realized that when people turn 30 they are completing their 30th year of life rather than beginning it. It’s possible that I’d have grasped that basic fact and many others much earlier if my head weren’t so stuffed with so much minutiae about the Shackleton expedition, so many descriptions of light from James Salter short stories, all these invisible psychosocial landscapes from all these books.

What do you plan to read next?

I’ve got to read the Lydia Davis translation of “Madame Bovary.” I’m having physical cravings for it. If I could stop time right now I’d lie down in the grass somewhere and go straight through from beginning to end.”
jiatolentino  howweread  reading  books  2019  internet  susansontag  web  online  digitalnatives  attention  yafiction  genre  malcolmharris  adriannicoleleblanc  tebeccastead  liucixin  oceanvuong  jennyodell  doreenstfélix  vinsoncunningham  bryanwashington  tommyorange  jennyzhang  rossgay  zadiesmith  rebeccasolnit  emilynussbaum  rebeccatraister  britbennett  caityweaver  rachelaviv  kathrynschulz  pamelacolloff  gideonlewis-kraus  patrickraddenkeefe  patricialockwood  smanthairby  lesliejamison  laurengoff  johnjeremiahsullivan  wesleymorris  megwolitzer  marlonjames  tedchiang  eulabiss  bythebook  georgesaunders  matthewdesmond  caseycep  sherwoodanderson  thewestinggame  chriskraus  lydiadavis  madamebovary 
4 days ago by robertogreco
Going Home with Wendell Berry | The New Yorker
[via: https://twitter.com/annegalloway/status/1150867868696772608 ]

[Too much to quote, so here’s what Anne quoted:]

“Lancie Clippinger said to me, and he was very serious, that a man oughtn’t to milk but about twenty-five cows, because if he keeps to that number, he’ll see them every day. If he milks more than that, he’ll do the work but never see the cows! The number will vary from person to person, I think, but Lancie’s experience had told him something important.”
via:anne  wendellberry  rural  slow  small  empathy  kindness  georgesaunders  relationships  neighbors  amish  care  caring  maintenance  human-animalrelations  human-animalrelationships  culture  farming  agriculture  local  locality  place  trees  history  multispecies  morethanhuman  language  restorativejustice  justice  climatejustice  socialjustice  johnlukacs  environment  sustainability  kentucky  land  immigration  labor  work  gender  ownership  collectivism  conversation  lancieclippinger  god  faith  religion  christianity  submission  amandapetrusich  individualism  stewardship  limits  constraints  memory  robertburns  kafka  capitalism  corporations  life  living  provincialism  seamusheaney  patrickkavanagh  animals  cows  freedom  limitlessness  choice  happiness  davidkline  thomasmerton  service  maurytilleen  crops  us  donaldtrump  adlaistevenson  ezrataftbenson  politics  conservation  robertfrost  pleasure  writing  andycatlett  howwewrite  education  nature  adhd  wonder  schools  schooling  experience  experientiallearning  place-based  hereandnow  presence 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
Austin Kleon — “That airport state of mind.”
[quoting: https://longform.org/posts/longform-podcast-75-george-saunders ]

"You know when you’re saying goodbye to somebody at the airport that you love and you get all soft? You’re like, “Oh my god, I hardly knew ya.” You know, that kind of feeling? What if that’s the truth? That that times ten is the mode that we should exist in all the time? Then another day you’re just yourself. There’s a big gap between those two people.

So, my regret would be how much time did I spend in that regular, old, stupid habitual mindset of taking everything for granted, as opposed to this exalted state of being super-tenderized to the people you care about.

I’m guessing that, you know, if there’s a heaven, it’s that at the airport times ten or twenty or a thousand.

The regret would be that you, like a lunkhead, spent so much time in that normal state. “Oh, I wonder what I’m going to do today? I hope my book is selling! How do I look? Oh, I’m going bald.” That mode is habitual, but we know from the occasional foray into it, that the other mode is possible.

[Congratulations, By The Way] basically says: “Hurry up! Take my advice, hurry up, try to get into that higher state while you can.”

How do you do it? I don’t know I’m stupid. I’m like a latecomer. But there’s these thousands of years of spiritual traditions that wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

A lot of times in our culture there’s this de facto humanist swagger that says, “Oh yeah, Religion. We used to do that shit.” But my advice would be, to anyone who wanted it: reconfigure your understanding of “Religion,” and make it exactly that which will give you that airport state of mind more often. And then go into the existing traditions and cull through them to make it that. Or to try to find the authentic elements of those traditions that are really about that. Cos that’s really what they’re about."
austinkleon  georgesaunders  spirituality  religion  2016  heaven  humanism  truth  softness  love  immediacy 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Just don’t lose the magic
"“We cannot have a meaningful revolution without humor.”
—bell hooks

In a terrific piece about his writing education, George Saunders talks about getting into the MFA program at Syracuse and hanging out with his new mentor, Tobias Wolff:
At a party, I go up to Toby and assure him that I am no longer writing the silly humorous crap I applied to the program with, i.e., the stuff that had gotten me into the program in the first place. Now I am writing more seriously, more realistically, nothing made up, nothing silly, everything directly from life, no exaggeration or humor—you know: “real writing.”

Toby looks worried. But quickly recovers.

“Well, good!” he says. “Just don’t lose the magic.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about. Why would I do that? That would be dumb.

I go forward and lose all of the magic, for the rest of my time in grad school and for several years thereafter…

He later sums it up:
[S]omehow, under the pressure of suddenly being surrounded by good writers, I went timid and all the energy disappeared from my work–I’ve lost the magic indeed, have somehow become a plodding, timid, bad realist.

You see this pattern over and over with many creative people: they have this little bit of magic, a spark of something that comes naturally to them, and it’s often messy and weird and a little bit off, and that’s why they catch our attention in the first place. The odd magic is what we love about them.

Then, something happens. They decide it’s time, now, to be serious.

The wild painter whose Instagram you love goes to grad school and all of the sudden her posts get boring. A brilliant illustrator decides to write a book, a real book, one without any pictures in it, and it comes out and bores you to tears. Etc.

(Preston Sturges sends up this impulse in his great movie about a comedy director who decides he wants to make a serious film, Sullivan’s Travel’s.)

It happened to me: before I went to college, I loved poetry, drawing, and art with a sense of humor. Then, after I got to college, I decided, It’s time, now, to be serious. I started to believe in the following misguided equations:

1. fiction > poetry
2. words > pictures
3. tragedy > comedy

Eventually, I got so miserable that I threw those equations out the window, bought a sketchbook, and started reading comics again. When I graduated college, I started making my weird, occasionally funny, blackout poems. Slowly, a little bit of the magic came back.

But whenever that impulse returns, that impulse to come on now be serious, I lose the magic again. It happened most recently getting ready for my upcoming art show. That stupid voice started saying: This is a gallery show. This is Art. I need to be serious.

Cue the choke.

A few years ago, Bill Murray gave a speech to a bunch of baseball players and he ended it with this perfect bit of Zen:
If you can stay light, and stay loose, and stay relaxed, you can play at the very highest level—as a baseball player or a human being.

I keep this goofy picture of him in my studio:

[image]

It’s up there to remind me: Stay at it, but stay light. Don’t be afraid to do what comes naturally. Fight the urge to be serious. Don’t let it destroy the very thing that makes you you.

Like Tobias Wolff said, “Just don’t lose the magic.”"
austinkleon  self-care  writing  creativity  personality  billmurray  tobiaswolff  prestonsturges  georgesaunders  howwewrite  smartness  audience  messiness  weirdness  magic  individuality  playfulness  seriousness 
june 2016 by robertogreco
George Saunders: On Story - YouTube
"Originally launched on the Atlantic.com
A Film by Tom Mason and Sarah Klein
Executive Produced by Ken Burns

In this rare appearance as a documentary subject, George Saunders reveals the pitfalls of bad storytelling and explains the openness and generosity required to breath life into great characters. The film offers a direct look at the process by which he is able to take a single mundane sentence and infuse it with the distinct blend of depth, compassion, and outright magic that are the trademarks of his most powerful work.

Situated in an innovative and dreamlike visual world set to a lush original soundtrack by Antfood music, the seven minute film distills the magical essence of one of our most beloved writers into a work that will inspire old fans and Saunders newbies alike."

[also here: https://vimeo.com/143732791 ]
georgesaunders  storytelling  stories  video  2015  tommason  sarahklein  characters 
december 2015 by robertogreco
My Writing Education: A Time Line - The New Yorker
"One day I walk up to campus. I stand outside the door of Doug’s office, ogling his nameplate, thinking: “Man, he sometimes sits in there, the guy who wrote Leaving the Land.” At this point in my life, I’ve never actually set eyes on a person who has published a book. It is somehow mind-blowing, this notion that the people who write books also, you know, *live*: go to the store and walk around campus and sit in a particular office and so on. Doug shows up and invites me in. We chat awhile, as if we are peers, as if I am a real writer too. I suddenly feel like a real writer. I’m talking to a guy who’s been in People magazine. And he’s asking me about my process. Heck, I *must be* a real writer."



"For me, a light goes on: we are supposed to be—are required to be—interesting. We’re not only *allowed* to think about audience, we’d *better*. What we’re doing in writing is not all that different from what we’ve been doing all our lives, i.e., using our personalities as a way of coping with life. Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing ones’ particular charms. To say that “a light goes on” is not quite right—it’s more like: a fixture gets installed. Only many years later (see below) will the light go on."



"Doug gets an unkind review. We are worried. Will one of us dopily bring it up in workshop? We don’t. Doug does. Right off the bat. He wants to talk about it, because he feels there might be something in it for us. The talk he gives us is beautiful, honest, courageous, totally generous. He shows us where the reviewer was wrong—but also where the reviewer might have gotten it right. Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.

We liked Doug before this. Now we love him.

Toby has the grad students over to watch A Night at the Opera. Mostly I watch Toby, with his family. He clearly adores them, takes visible pleasure in them, dotes on them. I have always thought great writers had to be dysfunctional and difficult, incapable of truly loving anything, too insane and unpredictable and tortured to cherish anyone, or honor them, or find them beloved.

Wow, I think, huh."



"I notice that Doug has an incredible natural enthusiasm for anything we happen to get right. Even a single good line is worthy of praise. When he comes across a beautiful story in a magazine, he shares it with us. If someone else experiences a success, he celebrates it. He can find, in even the most dismal student story, something to praise. Often, hearing him talk about a story you didn’t like, you start to like it too—you see, as he is seeing, the seed of something good within it. He accepts you and your work just as he finds it, and is willing to work with you wherever you are. This has the effect of emboldening you, and making you more courageous in your work, and less defeatist about it."



"End of our first semester. We flock to hear Toby read at the Syracuse Stage. He has a terrible flu. He reads not his own work but Chekhov’s “About Love” trilogy. The snow falls softly, visible behind us through a huge window. It’s a beautiful, deeply enjoyable, reading. Suddenly we get Chekhov: Chekhov is funny. It is possible to be funny and profound at the same time. The story is not some ossified, cerebral thing: it is entertainment, active entertainment, of the highest variety. All of those things I’ve been learning about in class, those bone-chilling abstractions theme, plot, and symbol are de-abstracted by hearing Toby read Chekhov aloud: they are simply tools with which to make your audience feel more deeply—methods of creating higher-order meaning. The stories and Toby’s reading of them convey a notion new to me, or one which, in the somber cathedral of academia, I’d forgotten: literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form."



"Toby is a generous reader and a Zen-like teacher. The virtues I feel being modeled—in his in-class comments and demeanor, in his notes, and during our after-workshop meetings—are subtle and profound. A story’s positive virtues are not different from the positive virtues of its writer. A story should be honest, direct, loving, restrained. It can, by being worked and reworked, come to have more power than its length should allow. A story can be a compressed bundle of energy, and, in fact, the more it is thoughtfully compressed, the more power it will have.

His brilliant story “The Other Miller” appears in The Atlantic. I read it, love it. I can’t believe I know the person who wrote it, and that he knows me. I walk over to the Hall of Languages and there he is, the guy who wrote that story. What’s he doing? Talking to a student? Photocopying a story for next day’s class? I don’t remember. But there he is: both writer and citizen. I don’t know why this makes such an impression on me–maybe because I somehow have the idea that a writer walks around in a trance, being rude, moved to misbehavior by the power of his own words. But here is the author of this great story, walking around, being nice. It makes me think of the Flaubert quote, “live like a bourgeoisie and think like a demigod.” At the time, I am not sure what a bourgeoisie is, exactly, or a demigod, but I understand this to mean: “live like a normal person, write like a maniac.” Toby manifests as an example of suppressed power, or, rather: *directed* power. No silliness necessary, no dramatics, all of his considerable personal power directed, at the appropriate time, to a worthy goal."



"What Doug does for me in this meeting is respect me, by declining to hyperbolize my crap thesis. I don’t remember what he said about it, but what he did not say was, you know: “Amazing, you did a great job, this is publishable, you rocked our world with this! Loved the elephant.” There’s this theory that self-esteem has to do with getting confirmation from the outside world that our perceptions are fundamentally accurate. What Doug does at this meeting is increase my self-esteem by confirming that my perception of the work I’d been doing is fundamentally accurate. The work I’ve been doing is bad. Or, worse: it’s blah. This is uplifting–liberating, even—to have my unspoken opinion of my work confirmed. I don’t have to pretend bad is good. This frees me to leave it behind and move on and try to do something better. The main thing I feel: respected. Doug conveys a sense that I am a good-enough writer and person to take this not-great news in stride and move on. One bad set of pages isn’t the end of the world."



"On a visit to Syracuse, I hear Toby saying goodbye to one of his sons. “Goodbye, dear,” he says.

I never forget this powerful man calling his son “dear.”

All kinds of windows fly open in my mind. It is powerful to call your son “dear,” it is powerful to feel that the world is dear, it is powerful to always strive to see everything as dear. Toby is a powerful man: in his physicality, in his experiences, in his charisma. But all that power has culminated in gentleness. It is as if that is the point of power: to allow one to access the higher registers of gentleness."



"I am teaching at Syracuse myself now. Toby, Arthur Flowers, and I are reading that year’s admissions materials. Toby reads every page of every story in every application, even the ones we are almost certainly rejecting, and never fails to find a nice moment, even when it occurs on the last page of the last story of a doomed application. “Remember that beautiful description of a sailboat on around page 29 of the third piece?” he’ll say. And Arthur and I will say: “Uh, yeah … that was … a really cool sailboat.” Toby has a kind of photographic memory re stories, and such a love for the form that goodness, no matter where it’s found or what it’s surrounded by, seems to excite his enthusiasm. Again, that same lesson: good teaching is grounded in generosity of spirit."



"One night I’m sitting on the darkened front porch of our new house. A couple walks by. They don’t see me sitting there in the shadows.

“Oh, Toby,” the woman says. “Such a wonderful man.”

Note to self, I think: Live in such a way that, when neighbors walk by your house months after you’re gone, they can’t help but blurt out something affectionate."



"I do a reading at the university where Doug now teaches. During the after-reading party, I notice one of the grad writers sort of hovering, looking like she wants to say something to me. Finally, as I’m leaving, she comes forward and says she wants to tell me about something that happened to her. What happened is horrible and violent and recent and it’s clear she’s still in shock from it. I don’t know how to respond. As the details mount, I find myself looking to Doug, sort of like: Can you get me out of this? What I see Doug doing gets inside my head and heart and has stayed there ever since, as a lesson and an admonition: what Doug is doing, is staring at his student with complete attention, affection, focus, love—whatever you want to call it. He is, with his attention, making a place for her to tell her story—giving her permission to tell it, blessing her telling of it. What do I do? I do what I have done so many times and so profitably during my writing apprenticeship: I do my best to emulate Doug. I turn to her and try to put aside my discomfort and do my best to listen as intently as Doug is listening. I … [more]
georgesaunders  2015  teaching  teachers  writing  kindness  listening  tobiaswolff  dougunger  audience  voice  criticism  love  attention  family  adoration  howweteach  confidence  howwelearn  pedagogy  praise  self-esteem  literature  chekhov  storytelling  stories  humility  power  understanding  critique  gentleness  affection  toaspireto  aspirations  generosity  focus  education  howelearn 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Best Fabulist Books – Flavorwire
"Fabulism, it seems, is having a moment — although whether it’s truly a trend is up for debate. Some might say it’s been right there, purring along all this time, while others might blink and wonder what you’re talking about. Such is always the case with magic. But whether you’re a newbie or an old hat, there are always new corners of the fantastic to discover.

Before we begin, take note: I say fabulism, but there’s really no single term that works for all of these books, or even for more than a few of them. There’s Robert Scholes’s fabulation, Todorov’s fantastic, there’s plain old fairy tale or fantasy, there’s the much-discussed magical realism, but none of these really work as blanket terms, at least not for what we think of when we consider contemporary literary works with, er, unrealistic elements. And maybe that’s a good thing — maybe that’d tether these books too close to earth, keep them too cemented in our imaginations.

So, here you’ll find 50 excellent novels and short story collections by fabulists, fantasists, and fairy-tale-tellers, literary books that incorporate the irreal, the surreal, and the supernatural, which have no unironic dragons, very few (if any) self-serious necromancers, but lots of delightful, magical, humane, real-as-all-get-out storytelling. Better get started, and if any of your own favorites are missing here, add them to the list in the comments."
via:anne  books  booklists  toread  srg  harukimurakami  italocalvino  borges  isabelallende  gabrielgarcíamárquez  georgesaunders  kafka  aimeebender  alissanutting  ameliagray  angelacarter  benmarcus  chinamieville  césararia  donaldantrim  donaldbarthelme  eowynivey  etgarkeret  heidijulavits  helenoyeyemi  jeffvandermeer  johnbarth  joywilliams  karenjoyfowler  karenrussell  katebernheimer  kathryndavis  kellylink  kevinbrockmeier  koboabe  lauravandenberg  lucycorin  marie-helenebertino  mattbell  mikhailbulgakov  nalohopkinson  neilgaiman  normanlock  philiproth  porochistakhakpour  ramonaausubel  salmanrushdie  sarahsun-lienbynum  shanejones  stephenmillhauser  tobybarlow 
july 2014 by robertogreco
3 thoughts on kindness - Austin Kleon
"1) “Real kindness is an exchange with essentially unpredictable consequences. It is a risk precisely because it mingles our needs and desires with the needs and desires of others…”

2) “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

3) “There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.”"
marklarson  georgesaunders  austinkleon  2014  kindness  emilesfahanismith 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Paris Review – Gchatting with George Saunders, Katherine Bernard
"George: When I was starting out I had some basic tightassedness re literary diction - thought that “real” literature had to occur in a space slightly higher than you could actually enact in real-time. This had its origins in the fact that I didn’t know any writers etc etc. So it was a breakthrough (hardwon, late in coming) when I realized that there is really no difference between high and low speech - they both “indicate,” they both scan, they both give off energy when read. So that was a great thing, to suddenly be able to consider ALL language as possible candidates for what we might call “poetic elevation” - that process of compression/exclusion that takes a diction and kicks it up into (hopefully) a kind of super-expressive purity...."



"me: Speaking of distortions, Nicki is a judge on American Idol at the moment
and she frequently takes on this british accent and becomes a different character - I think psychologically to make crushing people’s dreams easier on her psyche.
She’ll be like: “I’m so sorry dahling but we just cahn’t do it today”

George: I do that myself, all the time. Like at the grocery store: “Dear lad, this pepperoni rather bloody appears to be past its expiration date. And that lady appears to be going into labour.”

me: “Sir, if you could just not put the blasted eggs at the bottoum of the bag...”

George: I find it exciting to think that whatever language the culture produces can be grist for the literary mill - well, and that it would HAVE to be, you know? And that goes for extra-linguistic things too - whatever thought patterns are manifesting out there, have to be interesting to us as writers. Part of “growing” ourselves as writers (there...there’s a mod usage there) is to keep expanding our vision of “what is art” outward to accommodate whatever is...out there, in reality.

me: Do you have a phrase you really like in this moment?
Something you heard recently and felt YES?

George: Nothing’s coming to mind. I’m still feeling the pain of “cocksuckworthian.”
Funny thing - I think g-chat is a little...Catholic. It always says “katherinebernard is busy. You may be interrupting.” It’s like it has an auto-nun feature.

me: I’m soooo busyyyyyy

get in linnnne George!
Since it’s Valentine’s day may I tell you a love-and-Saunders story?
are you ok on time?

George: Sure - and it’s ok with me if we go a bit past the time allotted, btw."



"George: I mean -
I mean - you
You’d hate to exclude a Worthy Suitor.
Nice typing there. That’s what I get for trying to g-chat while making an omelet and changing my piston rings and writing a short memoir.

me: Turns out in the end he was Unworthy in Every Way

George: So many are. These dudes today. And always.
Such as me, circa 1986.

me: What about circa 2013?

George: My wife and I have been married 25 years so we are just going out to lunch, very happily - I’ve been out of town for awhile and it’s just nice being together.

George: One of the great under-narrrated pleasures of living: long-term fidelity & love.

me: That’s so lovely!
Happy valentines day to her!

George: And happy valentie
Happy valentine’s to you too.
Someone rigged this computer up with a secret “send-before-done” button."
2013  georgesaunders  gchat  googlechat  katherinebernard  humor  writing  highbrow  lowbrow  highspeech  lowspeech  via:ablerism 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Squishy Not Slick - the far-off influences
"My students’ responses to that prompt led me to think quite a bit about what George Saunders suspects about the difference between the person in the field in 1200 and my students today.

I’ve given my students this prompts before, at least a few times. But this is the first batch of students who were willing to admit the importance of their far-off influences – people who are very influential on their lives who live somewhere far away – and even to include those far-off, digitally-connected influences alongside or even before those who they are in contact with regularly.

One girl, who most of her classmates consider to be in the upper echelons of popularity, wrote this: “I guess you could say I’m a lonely person. I don’t hang out with friends all that often. I probably spend the majority of my life surrounding myself with my phone and Netflix….” Another wrote about how one of the most important influences on who she has become is her favorite YouTuber. Another listed four friends and put Tumblr for the fifth. One student wrote about a friend he met through YouTube who has become one of his best friends. He lives in another state and they take turns flying to visit each other in the summer.

I shared with them how interesting I found all of this, and how I too have found these far-off influences to be very important in shaping who I am and what happens in my head. I shared an example with them: how great it has been for me to get to know Rob and his family. I bragged about his idea sommelier skills (and he delivered), but I also told them about how his approach to life and art and school have changed me. 

I can only hope that their experiences with their far-off influences are as quality and formative as mine have been."
lukeneff  georgesaunders  influence  ego  geography  web  internet  history  2013 
october 2013 by robertogreco
George Saunders's Advice to Graduates - NYTimes.com
"So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything."



"Still, accomplishment 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.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: 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."
2013  georgesaunders  commencementspeeches  kindness  life  wisdom  living  commencementaddresses 
august 2013 by robertogreco
Fallen Idols - NYTimes.com
"Tobias Wolff was a literary hero to Saunders. “Toby was the first great writer I ever met and what the meeting did for me was disabuse me of the idea that a writer had to be a dysfunctional crazy person,” Saunders said. “Toby was loving, gentle, funny, kind, wise — yet he was producing these works of great (sometimes dark) genius. It was invigorating to be reminded that great writing was (1) mysterious and (2) not linked, in any reductive, linear way, to the way one lived: wild writing could come from a life that was beautifully under control. Watching him, I felt: O.K., nurture the positive human parts of yourself and hope they get into your work, eventually.”

Writers and their books will always be inextricably connected, but the relationship between them isn’t simple. As Saunders told me, “A work of art is something produced by a person, but is not that person — it is of her, but is not her. It’s a reach, really — the artist is trying to inhabit, temporarily, a more compact, distilled, efficient, wittier, more true-seeing, precise version of herself — one that she can’t replicate in so-called ‘real’ life, no matter how hard she tries. That’s why she writes: to try and briefly be more than she truly is.”

Maybe, as a reader, that is what I keep falling in love with — not the author, but the art of reaching."

[Similar to Tobias Wolff and George Saunders as creative people not having to be "a dysfunctional crazy person": Robert Irwin and Dave Brubeck]
georgesaunders  creativity  tobiaswolff  2013  howwework  art  writing  writers  relationships  books  reaching  goodpeople  goodness  separation 
july 2013 by robertogreco
Luke's Commonplace Book
"America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks at misery and says: Hey, I didn’t do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I busted my butt to get where I am, so don’t come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privilege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies. These two parts of the American Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the nation, and come to think of it, these two parts of the World Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the world, and the hope of the nation and of the world is to embrace the Huck part and send the Tom part back up the river, where it belongs."

— George Saunders in The Braindead Megaphone
georgesaunders  2013  huckleberryfinn  tomsawyer  marktwain  us  misery  inequity  nobility  privilege  fairness  fairplay  wondering  wonder  knowing  knowledge  hope  caring  care  worldpsyche  politics  society  social  liberalism  libertarianism 
may 2013 by robertogreco
The Pantograph Punch — At the Service of the Unusual
"Throughout our discussion Shaun kept talking about engineers. At the time I had very little idea what an engineer did but it was their language Shaun was using. Instead of adapting Shaun’s words into something I understood, something familiar, I wondered what would happen if I put my work at the service of the unusual. If I let the ideas and words of engineering rule my work rather than trying to force them into the shape of conventional fiction. Would I be able to recreate the odd way I had perceived those buildings on that day?"



"Where I’d always aimed to achieve mimicry I needed to attain literacy. I needed to find some engineers but I couldn’t just observe them, I needed to come out from the corners and ask them to teach me and test me. I found one engineer in particular, Andrew Charleson. Andrew works at Victoria University School of Architecture and Design. When I first met him he described himself as an engineer who had been ‘acrhictectualised’. He told me, if I was serious, I needed to take some courses he was running about structure."



"George Saunders was an engineer, so was Fyodor Dostoevsky, Neville Shute, Robert Musil, L. Sprague de Camp, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer. Also, most of the engineers I talked to had a very wide reading habit. The myth of men reading only non-fiction seemed to be smashed by the engineers I met, a couple of whom wrote short stories and poetry themselves. But I wasn’t an engineer who wrote fiction, I was a writer who was pretending, play-acting at being an engineering student."
writing  empathy  learning  engineering  perception  language  vocabulary  thinking  mindset  georgesaunders  dostoyevsky  nevilleshute  robertmusil  robertlouisstevenson  kurtvonnegut  lspraguedecamp  normanmailer  2013  pipadam  poetry  storytelling  pretending  playacting  fiction  mimicry  vonnegut 
may 2013 by robertogreco
Los Angeles Review of Books - A Drop Of Concentrated Empathy: On Brokenness And Beauty In The Stories Of George Saunders
"Some writing approximates the way people talk. What Saunders does is capture the way people think, representing thought in its purest form: the artfully imprecise, clumsily inventive, and cryptically private shorthand of a mind talking to itself. First in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1992), and then again in Pastoralia (2000), Saunders revealed something essential about how we talk to ourselves, talk ourselves into things, or out of them, how proficiently we deceive ourselves, and how, despite the self-deception, the truth always bubbles up through the chatter and babble in our heads, eventually finding its way to the surface. Saunders has given us the slash (“thinking positive/saying positive”), the slightly insincere exclamation point of motivational speech, the colloquial “ha ha” of social awkwardness, and the self-directed rhetorical question, as if spoken by some inner bureaucrat. Individually these are clever and revealing tics of the contemporary interior monologue. Collectively, they form a kind of internal grammar of logic and self-persuasion — the connective tissue of thought."

"Saunders is probably most famous for his theme park worlds and absurdist corporate vignettes, but there is another distinct strain of the Saunders story: characters, each moving, either by compulsion or by some newfound resolve, toward some critical life moment, suddenly and unexpectedly converging on a single point in space and time. "
georgesaunders  empathy  sympathy  writing  literature  2013  space  time  howwetalk  howwethink  psychology  slef-persuasion 
march 2013 by robertogreco
Episode One: Little Language Machine | The Organist
"Welcome to Episode one of the Organist, wherein:

• the short-story master George Saunders talks about how riffing as a teenage benchwarmer led to the richly imagined voices of his fiction;
• Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman explains the tortured etymology of the word “podcast” (it’s a conflation of the words paw and broadcast — a radio show with claws);
• critic Greil Marcus considers a reissue of the first Bikini Kill EP and a new novel by Percival Everett;
• Amber Scorah tells the story of her defection from the Jehovah’s Witnesses while working as a missionary in Shanghai;
• Pitchfork editor Brandon Stosuy presents five five-word record reviews of excellent new guitar rock;
• the electronic duo Matmos takes a song from their new album apart, piece by piece, revealing its brilliant, pulsating innards;
• a new(ish) film casts a shotgun microphone as its protagonist;
• And more!
• Actually, not much more. That’s more or less everything."

[See also the bonus material: http://www.theorganist.org/uncategorized/episode-one-web-extras-page/ ]
via:maxfenton  podcasts  georgesaunders  2013  nickofferman  grilmarcus  amberscorah  brandonstosuy  matmos  music  film  percivaleverett  theorganist 
february 2013 by robertogreco
George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year - NYTimes.com
"You could call this desire — to really have that awareness, to be as open as possible, all the time, to beauty and cruelty and stupid human fallibility and unexpected grace — the George Saunders Experiment."

“He’s such a generous spirit, you’d be embarrassed to behave in a small way around him.”

“There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

"the process of trying to say something, of working through craft issues and the worldview issues and the ego issues—all of this is character-building, and, God forbid, everything we do should have concrete career results. I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person."

""...I don’t really think the humanist verities are quite enough. Because that would be crazy if they were. It would be so weird if we knew just as much as we needed to know to answer all the questions of the universe. Wouldn’t that be freaky? Whereas the probability is high that there is a vast reality that we have no way to perceive, that’s actually bearing down on us now and influencing everything. The idea of saying, ‘Well, we can’t see it, therefore we don’t need to see it,’ seems really weird to me.”"
struggle  progress  suicide  davidfosterwallace  canon  understanding  kindness  living  life  thinking  open  openminded  dignity  character  integrity  ideals  morality  humans  human  fallibility  aynrand  capitalism  careerism  compassion  junotdíaz  humanism  writing  economics  empathy  georgesaunders  2012  wisdom  storytelling 
january 2013 by robertogreco
A homeless man snuck into someone’s... - a grammar
"I’ve had the notion, a couple times, of starting a Tumblr collecting things from real life that seem like they should come from old George Saunders stories. (My mental list of potential themed Tumblrs is obviously long and sad.) Right now I wish I had one ready to go: I mean, look at the syntax at the end, the “would probably be pretty nice!” I’ve never been to the Portland suburbs, but is it possible there’s some kind of absurd historical amusement park and/or strip club in the area?

(Note: if it were a woman who lived in a small apartment, rather than a homeless man, it would be a Miranda July story, but there are already plenty of “Miranda July Stories in Real Life” Tumblrs, whether they’re aware of it or not.)"
mirandajuly  georgesaunders  potentialthemedtumblrs  tumblr  humor  syntax  reallife  truthisbetterthanfiction  strories  storytelling 
september 2010 by robertogreco
A Baker’s Dozen Of My Feelings About David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest - The Rumpus.net
"Reading IJ is like forging a spiritual connection with a man who expresses my feelings better than I do. As someone who writes, I've often felt that language is so poor an instrument for communication or expression. I find it unyieldingly difficult to write an honest sentence. DFW exhibits otherwise. George Saunders, in his remarks at David Foster Wallace's memorial service, called Wallace "a wake-up artist." Yes. DFW's words, beyond creating solid smart sentences and solid smart stories, reach this part of you that you thought no one could reach, saying everything you've been wanting to say and hear, everything you've been thinking on your own but haven't been able to share with anyone else."
davidfosterwallace  writing  books  infinitejest  via:kottke  reading  reviews  criticism  georgesaunders 
february 2009 by robertogreco
Coudal Partners: "Hot Ice" by Stuart Dybek field-tested by George Saunders
"I was sweating, my face was red, I kept putting the book down, going: This can't be this good this can't be this good. But it was, and to my credit, I saw it, and didn't deny it.
books  experience  literature  reading  georgesaunders  stories  shortstories 
may 2007 by robertogreco

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