Listened to George Saunders’ first collection of short stories, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, this summer and all the things I enjoy about Saunders’ writing were there. But the real treat was his writer’s note at the end, where he shared his experience as a not-so-young writer who pursued writing as he pursued a middle class existence with his wife and two precious daughters.
One of the things he writes about is how, as he matured as a person and a writer, he stopped trying to be the writers he revered and started to do the things that were unequivocally and uniquely him—the dark humor, the glints of meanness, the unrelenting pacing. Being himself made writing less burdensome, and the more he enjoyed writing, the more others enjoyed it, too. Lessons for everything we do, especially the creative stuff.
One way he described this was that initially he thought the task was to summit the mountains that were his idols—Mount Hemingway, Mount Didion, et al. But he realized he needed to reverse course, climb back down and stake out his own plot of land, knowing it would be meager but also that it would be his. And then to keep working it and working it. Saunders might not be Mount Hemingway, but he warrants a scenic overlook or two.
If you’re looking for some good places to start with Saunders, the above is a good start, as it is the start. Also you could try:
- Tenth of December (a collection of short stories)
- Lincoln in the Bardo (a popular novel)
- This conversation with songwriter Jason Isbell (Youtube, below)