"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, November 4, 2022

Review and quotes: A SWIM IN THE POND IN THE RAIN

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain:In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

Book Beginnings quote:

Friday 56 quote:

“The Russians, when I found them a few years later, worked on me in the same way. They seemed to regard fiction not as something decorative but as a vital moral-ethical tool. They changed you when you read them, made the world seem to be telling a different, more interesting story, a story in which you might play a meaningful part, and in which you had responsibilities.” 


For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it's more relevant than ever in these turbulent times.

In his introduction, Saunders writes, "We're going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn't fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?" He approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft, but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.

Review: A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is quite clearly in my top five favorite books of 2022, maybe even the top. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Saunders himself, with my husband on two separate road trips and both of us enjoyed it so much. I don't think of myself as a writer, even though I write on my blog. i think of myself as a reader and a person who wants to think deeply about literature (and life itself.) This book was outstanding. Admittedly, it is not a book for a casual reader, since all seven of the Russian short stories are included. One has to be willing to read the stories as well as Saunders essays about the stories. Last night when I was looking on-line for info about the book, I stumbled upon praise from other reviewers compiled in the paperback edition. I thought I'd share a few of them here so you can get a feel for how well-regarded are both A Swim in the Pond in the Rain and George Saunders.

"Reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is like taking a class with the kindest, most open-minded professor you can imagine" (Chicago Tribune).

I agree. One of my biggest regrets about my education is I never took a literature class in college where I had the opportunity to dissect great literature with a master like Saunders.

"The result is a worship song to writers and readers" (O Magazine).

Prior to this quote the reviewer for the O (Oprah) Magazine was going on about how the author's love of teaching is clear. Anyone who attends church knows how a good worship song can transport you to a new plain. That's what listening to A Swim in the Pond in the Rain did for me.

"George Saunders is the Tom Hanks of letters -- profoundly gifted and profoundly humane... A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is a close, marvelling, grateful, and precisely articulated reading of seven short stories" (Times Literary Supplement).

In an odd coincidence, as I was reading this quote to myself, I looked up to see Tom Hanks on TV. He was reprising his role on SNL as David. S. Pumpkins. I love him and now I think I love Saunders, too. 

In conclusion, I want to redirect you to the quote from Saunders in his introduction (Provided in the summary above.) He reminds me and all readers that great writers understand that their craft, their art, addresses these questions:

How are we supposed to be living down here? 
What were we put here to accomplish? 
What should we value? 
What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?"

These are all questions we should be asking ourselves, especially during these fraught times of political and social divisions. 

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