A Tribute to George (Saunders). No Reading 2014′s Best Until You Read 2013′s Best.


We’re well into 2014, but perhaps you still have some of last year’s reading left. Stop and do not pass Go until you catch up with this one.

“The best book you’ll read this year,” that 2013 New York Times Magazine assumption in search of rebuttal, introduces George Saunders’ Tenth of Dec.  So….anyhoo, let’s get to it. God, you’ll like George. NYT Mag, you win. Let’s come out and say your heart may burst with fandom for someone who thinks crazy stuff like you think all day, but can come out and write it. We completely recognize the second half of that last sentence is what’s relevant here, by the way. But let’s proclaim our complete and utter recognition of what he’s getting at! We know! He’s right! We mean, we need a new word. A word for the kind of unhinged (ha ha) laughter and tears that isn’t sorrow, not humor exactly (though this is the funniest stuff you’ll read – maybe ever?) but sort of a hysterical response, a deep kindred yowl, to a fellow life traveler who knows sh*.*t is f:-)d up and bullsh;-/t., but makes some art out of it. This  is extremely healing for those of you who are middle-aged, or women, or hold down “respectable” jobs (haha), who can’t trust their coupon-clipping neighbors. With anything.

Another thing you’ll like about George (no disrespect here. You’ll just feel on a first-name basis, emotionally speaking, that is). He seems to have picked up an attitude from living around Syracuse, N.Y. Anyone who’s lived north of 5 & 20 – that’s the old highway, running parallel, east-west, with the New York State throughway – knows all about “Lake effect.” Lots of snow, endless gray skies (not even glowering Nor’easter gray, or evocative misty gray, but a sort of beige-of-grays, boring and sad all at the same time). Theory: damp + snow =headcolds =nasal Upstate accent, but that’s a tangent. Point is, it’s an emotionally harsh environment, because it’s not like the Alaska television shows, where pioneer types sign up for extreme weather, and severe darkness, but are rewarded by massive summer cabbages and magical northern lights. Upstate, you still have to dig out the car and go to work, through the slush and depression. And so people have adapted, by being pretty polite (safety) and really, really, funny (release). Those who have been Upstate in winter will know – you bet – that George has benefitted, artistically speaking, from this salubrious environment. The landscape has informed his oeuvre. He sounds like someone who has spent more than a few hours shooting the sh*.*t with the physical plant guys, just to avoid students, and because they know about tools and cars, which is quite useful knowledge in northern climes, even if you are a college professor. And physical plant guys who work with tools and vehicles, surrounded by a lot of college students, are incisive, like middle-aged waitresses serving salesmen, or ER docs sewing up kids. And so is George. Incisive, that is – not sewing up kids, though surely he could. He has the heart and mind of a healer.

Others sharper than us have synopsized and analyzed his stories, so you can look there. But here’s a point we do want to make. The people you’ll want to read this book – who need to – the people you want to *get* this book – well, what are you going to do? Obviously, those who are donning the knight suits, enjoying fire drills, and getting pushed in vans – (proverbial or not), those like us on some level know this stuff – deeply, intimately. But do you think, for example, if Bernie Madoff has truly studied “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” he could have done what he did? Or maybe he could. God, when you think about it…but that would be the wrong perspective to take.  Don’t you wish the sort of people ultimately responsible for whipping up those metaphorical, mind-bending potions, importing decorative slaves, and enforcing harsh memos could read George, repent, and repair the harm they have done? This wish comes from the desire that someone – way, way, way up there at the top – isn’t so much inept, or like us, but evil. It just seems easier to cure.



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