George Saunders wrote a book about “writing, reading, and life”, A Swim in a Pond in The Rain (2021). A New York Times best seller. But it shouldn’t be. Saunders says as much in his concluding remarks “We End”, which is the only chapter you need read. It’s only seven pages. The rest of the book is seven short stories by Russian writers of the 19th Century: Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol. And then Saunders commenting, or teaching, you about what and how the writers wrote. Saunders uses more words than the Russians do. The book is about George and what he thinks.
Should You Read this Book?
Yes, if you want to learn something of what it was like to live in Russia in the 19th Century. Because that’s what the stories are about. I’ll save you the time – it was cold, dreary, snowy, and the people were lonely and sad, and drank a lot. And so on. People are pretty much the same today, but we’ve gotten better at dealing with the cold and snow. Not so much the loneliness.
Most people couldn’t read or write, but the authors could. That makes them special and their work worth reading, regardless.
In Saunders own words: “You didn’t need me to be here, to know what you thought of these stories.” (p.386) That’s the damn truth. But, he teaches this-this book-at the graduate level at Syracuse University. For a fine penny, of course. Moreover, the “Master Class” is very exclusive – he doesn’t take but a handful of applicants out of hundreds who want to be writers.
My oh my. This is what’s wrong with higher education. Everything?
My Crash Course.
I “taught” a course in writing at FRCC for a few years. It went like this: If you wanna write – read. Then write, read it (aloud), and rewrite it. Workshop what you wrote with some other wannabe writers, and you’re off to the races.
Saunders’s quotes Robert Frost: “Young man, don’t worry: WORK!” (p. 387) A lot of the students I had didn’t work, but wanted to be writers. WHAT!
It’s A Business
Writing today is a business and business is very competitive. You’re likely to not make a living at it. Will taking Saunders’s class increase your chances? Sure, by who knows? 400 percent? From one in a million to 4 in a million. Will it make you a good writer? Nah. But if you’ve got the money and the time, go for it. Nah.
Better to do what Chekhov’s character, Nikolay Ivanych, did and marry money. Then you can write, and drink! It’s a good story, Gooseberries. Timeless.