[Cross post with my Reading Rainstorm blog segment, Land of 10,000 Pages]
On Monday, I was excited to head out to Macalester College see a writer who has been described as “the best on the planet,” George Saunders, presenting in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the awesome local literary publication, the Rain Taxi Review of Books. Publishing four times a year and offering reviews of independent and obscure works of literature in diverse genres, from poetry to graphic novels, memoir to science fiction, if you see it in the racks at local coffee shops or bookstores, don’t forget to grab a copy. They’re free! Like the City Pages, and the late lamented Vita.mn and Onion papers, they have a tendency to pile up on my couches and in the backs of my friends and family’s cars. Of course, for the low price of $12 a year, you could subscribe and make sure you get all four copies. Always plenty of fodder to pile up on that ever growing reading list!
When Rain Taxi began back in 1995, one of their first issues reviewed a book of short stories by a new writer, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders. To help celebrate this, and the new edition of Saunders’ charming and eccentric children’s/adult’s picture book, the Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Saunders visited the Twin Cities to read a few of his works and talk about his writing style. I don’t think you could choose a better introduction to the wit and style of George Saunders than the Gappers of Frip. Read to a rapt audience by George Saunders himself, it was great way discover Saunders’ humorous and surreal, yet true to life writing. I can thank my English major sister for introducing me to his work, though I am still trying to complete my reading of his opus. I would also recommend listening to Saunder’s audiobooks, as he has a great, expressive reading voice, which made his live reading even better! Saunders was even kind enough to mention that the Twin Cities is a great place to do readings!
There is nothing cynical in Saunders’ work, but it also does not shy away from depicting the dark injustices faced by every citizen in our imperfect world, poverty, prejudice, greed, apathy, fear. Yet these elements are accompanied by a gentle, bright humanism that really shines through as well, making it a great exploration of the world as it is.
I’ve read that one, along with his latest collection Tenth of December and have always been in absolute awe at his writing prowess. More than any other author, I feel, he is able to capture the idiosyncrasies and feelings of everyday life infused with a total oddness that is itself true to life. In both Tenth of December and CivilWarLand, normal, flawed humans deal with absurd and bizarre situations they way we do with all of those inconvenient but normal problems of everyday life. Each story, also, takes a totally different and unique situation and takes it totally unexpected directions. In his discussion of his writing, Saunders mentioned a really interesting thought, that the writer’s job is really to bring their subconscious to the table, to make the richest and most resonant writing.
This is the stuff that draws me into Saunder’s stories, and into the deep, obsessing world of books in general. As Eric Lorberer, editor at Rain Taxi said in the video celebrating the magazine’s 20 years, books, “as the vital transporters of ideas, and of culture, and of values,” writing as a work of art and books will never leave humanity. Nothing exemplifies this better than the work of George Saunders.