I couldn’t know I was doing this at the time, but the day before we went into lockdown I armed myself with a bunch of books by George Saunders. I did this because he’s one of my favourite writers that I’ve never read.
You read that correctly.
I often write about Authors I Admire but those pieces are always about writers that I’ve actually read. I may not have supreme knowledge of every book they’ve published but I’m across the work in some capacity.
One day I might feel that way about Saunders. But I admire him already. And I quite like having a favourite author or two that I haven’t read.
Am I alone in this? Do you know what I mean? Everything about the writer makes sense, you figure the work will be for you – you’ve heard others raving, people with opinions that you respect; with tastes that line up next to yours. But for some reason you haven’t taken the plunge. It’s more than that though – with a Favourite Author That I’ve Never Read I’ll also follow them on social media, maybe. If that’s their thing. I’ll certainly listen to and read pieces about them – podcasts, interviews, the reviews. It’s all in the hope of one day sliding over the inertia and tumbling on down between the pages.
So I must have been inching close to this a couple of Tuesdays back when I picked up a bunch of his smaller, shorter works from the library.
Anyway, today I cracked that code with Saunders. (Or cracked the cover at least). It was easy pickings to begin – I read Fox 8 a single story which you might charitably consider a novella. But which is really just a standalone story. It felt like the right way in though – it’s a great wee book with a message, one that’s never more prescient, and it was easy to complete. Plus, Saunders is a story writer, a short story expert. I mean, funnily enough, he only goes and wins the Booker Prize for his first ever novel. But his reputation was built on the back of his short-story writing prowess.
So I’ll be in to the collections and the other novellas – ahead of maybe one day finally tackling Lincoln. (I started the audiobook and that seemed great and maybe one day I’ll go back to it).
I followed the hype and press around Saunders’ Bardo publication – and prize win. I listened to him interviewed and thought he was wonderful. I’d heard about him – and read about him – prior to that. But that’s when I got really interested. But not quite interested enough to actually read. Lol. Never mind – I still considered him one of my favourite writers. I still saw him as an influential figure. And I think that’s okay. What/who is it hurting? I was as into his ideas, his discussion, his way of thinking as I was the idea of his work.
I’ve got a few of them – or writers that are better known for a particular form (fiction) and I prefer their one-offs or side-line gigs (non-fiction). Zadie Smith is a great example here. Never once been tempted to read her novels – and I’m sure they’re probably pretty great – but I love her essays. I’ll read anything by her that is not one of her novels. And maybe I’ll keep it that way since that’s worked out pretty good so far. It’s the same for me with Jonathan Franzen actually. I’m not too interested in ever cracking the spine of his fiction but I really love his essays.
And more recently I absolutely loved this interview with him. (Audio). It helps, here, that the interviewer is a total class act, so well prepped, engaged and engaging. So into the work. And into doing the work.
Funnily enough, the subject there is the one that I thought would be my first Saunders book. His latest. A Swim In The Pond In The Rain. Non-fiction. Essays. For whatever reason I often find that the best way in with a creative writer. Sometimes – as highlighted above with a couple of examples – it’s where I choose to stay, regarding their work. And in this case it’s a book where Saunders gets to put across some of his impressive teaching credentials, his knowledge of other writers and other books.
Anyway, it was nice to divert away from my planned Lockdown Reading List and find something new. Something ‘new’ that I’d been somewhat stalking for a couple of years.