George Saunders has been teaching a graduate level course about short stories in Russian literature at Syracuse for twenty years and his new book encapsulates this course. He includes seven stories by four writers (Chekov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol) and then goes into a discussion and afterthought to help us process them and become better readers. Honestly, if I hadn’t put off two weeks of school reading to finish this book, I would just start it over again immediately. I’ve never read anything like this, (though I tend to have that thought every time I finish one of Saunders books).
Saunders explains that the stories he chose are not necessarily each author’s best works but are perfect for discussing different aspects of reading. He writes so accessibly, like the Russian writers themselves but in a completely different voice, that it feels as though you are actually in his class, and I’m certain that it will change the way I read. This book is as much textbook as it is pleasure reading but it doesn’t feel it.
Saunders finishes the book with a discussion of what reading fiction means to him and it’s just so perfect. He frames it in terms of relating to others with the utmost respect and it is such common sense but so beautifully phrased and so unlike the discourse you find on the internet. His final chapter embraces the true joy in not only reading but in letting your guard down and allowing your beliefs to be questioned by constantly learning new information. I can’t wait to reread Lincoln in the Bardo through the lens of these discussions now. (And Fox 8! And 10th of December!)
Review by Sarah Maciejewksi, Children’s Room Staff.
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