I went to see George Saunders last week at Greenlight Bookstore in Ft. Green, Brooklyn. I knew it would be a popular event, but I didn’t anticipate the hundreds of people who showed up and packed the small independent bookstore beyond capacity and spilled out into the street. Joel Lovell wrote a fantastic article about George Saunders in the Times, and called Tenth of December “the best book you’ll read all year.” I’ve only read 4 books so far this year, but so far he’s right. The article created even more buzz about the book’s release and was largely responsible for the hundreds of people (including Susan Sarandon and Joel Lovell himself) who showed up Thursday night.
If you look closely at the photo below, you can some of the dozens of people who stood outside the bookstore looking in through the windows during the event. What you can’t see in the photo is the hundreds of people packed in the store behind me.
Saunders read a short, hilarious passage from “Escape from Spiderhead” and then answered a few questions from the crowd. The last question asked of him was “When was the last time you were surprised?” and he immediately replied, “Tonight.” It was lovely to see so much enthusiasm and support for such a deserving and incredible author.
So let’s talk about the book itself, shall we? I had read a few of the stories in it before, in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s, but that night, waiting for the event to start, I turned to page one and began the collection from the beginning. I finished the collection in two days. It’s incredible. The stories are compassionate, real, funny, heartbreaking, and surprising. One of the things I love most about his stories is the controlled way the plot unfolds – he dives into the story and you don’t know everything from the beginning, but you don’t feel lost – you trust him and the story and as you read the puzzle pieces fill in. It’s masterful. I read somewhere that he strives to be the kind of storyteller that makes the reader “lean in” – he definitely achieves that with every story in this collection.
I love every story, but my favorites are “Victory Lap,” “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” and “Tenth of December.”
Every article I read about George Saunders compares him to some other author – often Twain, Vonnegut, Pynchon, West – while at the same time saying he’s incomparable. I agree that he’s incomparable, but I do think that if you love Vonnegut, you’re likely to love Saunders as well.