Search Results for: George Saunders

George Saunders on How We Deal with Anxiety

George_Saunders_by_David_Shankbone

I’m interested in the way that Americans — well, probably people in general — tend to address their anxiety with yap. I know I do. This tendency to lack the self-confidence to simply not do anything — to refrain, to be silent, not react, not shoot, just stay out of the shit — that seems to be an American thing. It’s like we can’t tolerate being sidelined or inactive or inessential to any moment. We always have to be active and at the center of things. That’s a big generality, but I do sometimes wonder why it is that, if, say, a European gets pissed off, he gets drunk and falls asleep on the curb — takes himself out of the action. He can tolerate being abased, somewhat. But an American guy (again, generalizing like a big dog), especially your generic white guy, doesn’t like that. It’s as if he can’t say: “I am small/minor/temporarily losing.” If humiliated, he has to go out and do something. It’s like the worst thing that could happen is that, for a while, he might be…passive, or absent, or quiet, or inessential.

Except for me, of course. I am one of those virtuous, self-possessed white guys.

-George Saunders, in an interview with emusic.

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Photo: David Shankbone, wikimedia commons

Advice from George Saunders

Longreads Pick

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

Published: Jul 31, 2013
Length: 7 minutes (1,846 words)

Author-Editor Interview: George Saunders and Andy Ward

Longreads Pick

How an editor and writer work together:

Ward: A lot of people say to me, ‘God, it must be so fun to work with George Saunders. Do you even have to edit him at all?’ And they say it like they assume you shun all editing, or don’t allow editing, which is always really funny to me, because you are a person who craves feedback, who wants to be pushed and challenged and sent off in new directions. This all sounds self-serving, I realize, so I should add: Of course, at this stage, you don’t need an editor. But you want an editor. Why?

Saunders: No, I definitely need and enjoy having an editor, and for the exact reasons you state. There’s a really nice moment in the life of a piece of writing where the writer starts to get a feeling of it outgrowing him—or he starts to see it having a life of its own that doesn’t have anything to do with his ego or his desire to ‘be a good writer.’ It’s almost like an animal starts to appear in the stone and then it starts to move, and you, the writer, are rooting for it so hard—but may not be able to see everything clearly after working on that stone for so long.”

Source: Slate
Published: Jan 9, 2013
Length: 11 minutes (2,939 words)

George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year

Longreads Pick

On the “writer’s writer,” George Saunders:

“We talked for a while about his relationship to Wallace. For all the ways in which their fiction might seem to be working similar themes, they were, Saunders said, ‘like two teams of miners, digging at the same spot but from different directions.’ He described making trips to New York in the early days and having ‘three or four really intense afternoons and evenings’ with, on separate occasions, Wallace and Franzen and Ben Marcus, talking to each of them about what ‘the ultimate aspiration for fiction was.’ Saunders added: ‘The thing on the table was emotional fiction. How do we make it? How do we get there? Is there something yet to be discovered? These were about the possibly contrasting desire to: (1) write stories that had some sort of moral heft and/or were not just technical exercises or cerebral games; while (2) not being cheesy or sentimental or reactionary.'”

Source: New York Times
Published: Jan 3, 2013
Length: 24 minutes (6,158 words)

Writing Advice from George Saunders

Longreads Pick

“You may remember some of my other biggies, such as, ‘Any monkey in a story had better be a dead monkey,’ and ‘Aunts and uncles are best construed as the heliological equivalent of small-scale weather systems,’ or (the mother of all advice-quote-pairs): ‘The number of rooms in a fictional house should be inversely proportional to the years during which the couple living in that house enjoyed true happiness.'”

Source: BOMB Magazine
Published: Apr 27, 2011
Length: 16 minutes (4,096 words)

Longreads Best of 2016: Essays & Criticism

best-of-2016_essay-criticism

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in essays and criticism.

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Kiese Laymon
A Professor of English and Creative Writing at University of Mississippi, and author of forthcoming memoir, Heavy.

Chicago State of Mind (Derrick Harriell, LA Review of Books)

Derrick Harriell wrote a piece on Chicago State that challenged my understanding of what’s possible with form and content in the long lyric essay. The piece narrativizes educational place and the journey of learning in a beautiful black place that’s trying to survive.


Mira Ptacin
Writer whose work has appeared in NPR, New York Magazine, Guernica, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Tin House, The Rumpus, and more. Author of the memoir Poor Your Soul, and teacher of memoir to women at the Maine Correctional Center.

On Domestic Disobedience (A.N. Devers, The New Republic)

I nominate this sharp-eyed and insightful piece not only because it brilliantly gave us a taste of Claire-Louise Bennett’s collection, but it gives it its proper place in the family tree of nature-writers by blowing “nature-dude” writing out of the water. Devers shows readers how important and triumphantly Bennett’s penmanship is, even in its simplicity: how even writing about the goings-on in the microcosm of a kitchen can dip into great depths to the mind and soul.


Tobias Carroll
Freelance writer, managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn, and author of the books Reel and Transitory.

Advanced Search (Franceska Rouzard, Real Life Magazine)

The right essay can turn an object or memory that I’d previously found mundane into the stuff of gripping narrative. Such is the case here, as Rouzard’s essay opens with descriptions of AOL dial-up in the mid-1990s before segueing into a capsule history of social media, and then extending into broader questions of identity and the sacred. It neatly parallels its author’s life with broader societal questions, keeping the two in perfect balance, and leaving me with a greater sense of both–I can’t ask a great essay to do more than that.


Sara Benincasa
Screenwriter, comedian, and writer, whose books include Agorafabulous, Great, DC Trip, and Real Artists Have Day Jobs.

Southern Fried Pride: What Hattiesburg’s First Pride Means in the Deep South (Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Medium)

The Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of the United Church of Christ is a wife, a mother, a lesbian, a former college professor (I took her class at Warren Wilson College), and the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. In this piece, Jasmine takes a road trip across the Deep South to visit Hattiesburg, Mississippi on the occasion of its very first Pride parade. People like Jasmine do the work that all Americans need, whether they accept it or not. In her peaceful, dignified but impassioned manner, she fights for equality for all Americans. That she happens to be a damn fine storyteller is just icing on the deep-fried cake.

More Than Coffee: New York’s Vanishing Diner Culture (George Blecher, The New York Times)

George Blecher paints a wonderful portrait of the diner he loves the most. He also gives a great bit of history about the rise of the diner in New York City. I grew up in New Jersey, which has its own brilliant and thriving diner culture but I lived in New York for many years. The old diner joints there are just as important as George says. Here in my newer home in Los Angeles, a city I love, I’ve got a few diners I can depend on: in Silverlake, Sunset Junction Coffee Shop; in Los Feliz, House of Pies; and more scattered around town. And in Manhattan, at 100th and Broadway, George has the Metro – for now.


Emily Gould
Half of the Coffee House Press imprint and e-bookstore Emily Books, and the author, most recently, of the novel Friendship.

H.: On Heroin and Harm Reduction (Sarah Resnick, n+1)

This year I started teaching writing workshop classes for the first time, and a lot of students want to learn how to do exactly what Sarah Resnick does here–and so do I! Addressed to a relative with a longstanding heroin habit, as well as a host of other problems, Resnick’s essay goes down several different paths, ultimately illuminating a lot of what’s circuitous and maddening about addiction and recovery as they’re currently understood in America, and how harm reduction programs work. The essay’s idiosyncratic, personal approach makes it more convincing than a straightforward argument for a new understanding of addiction could be. Reading it is memorable the way an experience is.

Perhaps Having Kids Saves You From Mourning the Person you Might Have Been (Laura Hazard Owen, Medium and tinyletter)

Owen publishes her essays about parenthood via newsletter as well as on Medium. She’s a journalist with expertise in publishing, tech and the business of journalism, and she brings the same kind of skepticism about received wisdom and eye for detail to her observations about children and parenting culture as she does to her other work. In this one, she takes on the hardest question of all — whether having children could be a mistake, whether parents can allow themselves to think it might have been. She writes about ambition so well. I will always remember the line here about lying on a couch reading in a beautiful house.


Porochista Khakpour
Author of the forthcoming memoir, Sick (Harper Perennial, August 2017) and the novels The Last Illusion, and Sons & Other Flammable Objects, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bookforum, Elle, Spin, Slate, and many other publications around the world.

The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin (Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Buzzfeed)

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah has become my favorite writer of my generation since I first read her writing about Dave Chappelle in The Believer several years ago (it was a National Magazine Award finalist, collected in The Best American Nonrequired Reading as well as The Believer’s anthology Read Harder). Since then I’ve been a fan of every piece of hers and this chronicle of traveling to the home of James Baldwin in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France is no exception. (It’s a highlight of what I consider one of the best books of the year, the Jesmyn Ward-edited The First This Time). Ghansah writes about Baldwin from all different angles and with every emotion, braided with her own issues of identity. The result is a hard, rough, beautiful diamond of piece, pushed to brilliance from considerable pressure. Ghansah is perhaps one of the only writers we have today who can live up to Baldwin in so many shades of style and substance.

Who are All the Trump Supporters? (George Saunders, The New Yorker)

Saunders has always been one of my favorite writers–it’s physically impossible for me to not read a piece by him–but this classic from last summer will be surely studied for decades if not centuries in the future. Trump and his supporters are a perfect match for Saunders, who although a liberal, often sketches the America Trump supporters know well in his fiction. The trademark Saundersian dark absurdism is a perfect fit for taking to the campaign trail and interviewing Trump supporters at rallies in Arizona, Wisconsin and California. The result is as funny as it frightening. It’s doubly a punch in the gut to read it now that Trump is, somehow, our president-elect.”Although, to me, Trump seems the very opposite of a guardian angel, I thank him for this: I’ve never before imagined America as fragile, as an experiment that could, within my very lifetime, fail,” Saunders writes, and ends almost prophetically: “But I imagine it that way now.”


Emily Perper
Emily Perper is a writer, bookseller and contributing editor at Longreads. In addition to word-work, they’re on the board of The Frederick Center, which provides resources for queer people in central Maryland.

My Son, the Prince of Fashion (Michael Chabon, GQ)

Both of my “best of” personal essay nominations concern the reaches and limits of parenthood. At GQ, novelist Michael Chabon writes about his trip to Paris Men’s Fashion Week, where his young son, 13-year-old Abe, catches a glimpse of his future and yearns after his tribe. I’d never presume to understand the intricacies of childrearing, but Chabon treats his son with a blend of kindness and respect we’d all do well to emulate with the young folks in our own lives–taking their desires, ideas and motivations seriously, and fostering their artistic instincts. And Chabon is simply an excellent writer, blending gentle self-deprecation with astute observation. He doesn’t need paragraphs of adjectives to transport the reader to the studios and runways of Paris. You are there, sweating in the French summer. You are there, checking out the throngs of stylish young men loitering outside shows. And you there, beaming (Guardedly! Be cool!) at your son, when he recognizes and is recognized.

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid (Rufi Thorpe, Vela)

Novelist Rufi Thorpe upends traditional discourse around the ponderous/condescending/exhausting query, “Can women have it all?” Instead, she makes a distinction between the selfishness of the artist’s way and motherhood’s requisite selflessness. Beyond her powerful and honest observations, the energy behind her language is distinct and exciting; it’s why I’ll read anything she writes. When I read the line “Children are a hinge that only bends one way,” I gasped.


Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Story Wrangler, WordPress.com and Longreads

Champagne in the Cellar (John Temple, The Atlantic)

During the Second World War, John Temple’s parents hid in a basement in Budapest with a French doctor, underneath a home that German soldiers had made their headquarters. After they separated from the doctor, they never reconnected. For the next 70 years, they wondered what had happened to this man who saved their lives. After his parents’ death, Temple turns to the internet to search for this man, known to him only as Dr. Lanusse. This is a touching story about history, family, memory, and — ultimately — a lasting bond between two families, connected by extraordinary circumstances. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo courtesy ProPublica

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

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1. Busted

Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders | ProPublica | July 7, 2016 | 29 minutes (7,261 words)

Law enforcement across the U.S. use $2 kits to test for drug possession while out on the field, despite evidence showing that the tests routinely produce false positives. The effect on the lives of the falsely accused and convicted can be devastating.

2. Who Are All These Trump Supporters?

George Saunders | The New Yorker | July 4, 2016 | 41 minutes (10,419 words)

George Saunders goes on the road to attend Trump rallies to get a sense of why so many people support the controversial candidate, and an understanding of how America has become so divided.

3. The Last Nazi Hunter

Stav Ziv | Newsweek | July 7, 2016 | 16 minutes (4,074 words)

Before the Holocaust's last architects can die naturally of old age, one Jewish man continues to track them down in order to bring them to justice for their crimes. Now his 40-year crusade has led him to Lithuania, a country which murdered over 90 percent of its Jewish citizens. Needless to say, he isn't popular there.

4. The Most Terrifying Childhood Condition You’ve Never Heard Of

David Dobbs | Spectrum | July 6, 2016 | 18 minutes (4,648 words)

A look into childhood disintegrative disorder, a rare condition which causes a child to "suffer deep, sharp reversals along multiple lines of development."

5. A Diamond and a Kiss: The Women of John Hughes

Soraya Roberts | Hazlitt | July 5, 2016 | 33 minutes (8,447 words)

Revisiting the women of John Hughes' '80s teen films, whose complex characters were unable to avoid the trap of aspiring to domestic ideals.

Who Are All These Trump Supporters?

Longreads Pick

George Saunders goes on the road to attend Trump rallies to get a sense of why so many people support the controversial candidate, and an understanding of how America has become so divided.

Source: The New Yorker
Published: Jul 4, 2016
Length: 41 minutes (10,419 words)

Longreads Best of 2015: Arts & Culture

Best-Of-2015-Arts-Culture

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in arts and culture writing.

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Shannon Proudfoot
Senior writer with Sportsnet magazine

The Late, Great Stephen Colbert (Joel Lovell, GQ)

Stephen Colbert has pulled off the rare feat of being a public figure for the better part of a decade while keeping his true self almost entirely obscured behind a braying façade. Here, with such uncommon intelligence, sensitivity and nuance, Joel Lovell shows us who’s been under there the whole time. The writer is very present in the story, sifting through the meaning of what he finds and tugging us along behind him through reporting and writing that starts out rollicking and then turns surprisingly raw and emotional. But Lovell never gets in his own way or turns self-indulgent; that’s a tough thing to pull off. The word I kept coming back to in thinking about this story was “humane”—it just feels so complex and wise, and unexpectedly aching, buoyed with perfect, telling details and effortlessly excellent writing. Read more…