George Saunders On "Tenth Of December"

Feb 4, 2013

It took author George Saunders seven years to write his collection of stories, “Tenth of December.” But for many fans, (including the New York Times Magazine which called his new story collection “the best book you’ll read this year”), the wait was been worth it.

Saunders visited the KUOW studios and gave us five amazing books that he thinks everybody should read.

This segment originally aired February 4, 2013

“The Coast of Chicago,” by Stuart Dybek

“The Coast of Chicago,” such a beautiful book. Actually one of the stories in there, “Hot Ice,” is the one that really made me become a writer because it was set in my dad’s old neighborhood. So it was the first time I saw a place that I knew represented in fiction, and it kind of came alive for me.

“I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941,” by Victor Klemperer

It’s a big, thick two-volume diary. He was a German Jew in Dresden. And what’s beautiful about it is that he is kind of not really aware — well he doesn’t know that the Holocaust is the Holocaust. He just thinks some pain-in-the-butts from Berlin are making trouble, being stupid. And very slowly over the course of hundreds of pages he begins to realize what’s really going on. Because it’s happening to him, and of course he is thinking about how his stomach hurts, how his wife is being a pain, how he just learned to drive a car, oh and by the way, they just took my office. The thrilling thing about it is as you read it and you can more actively imagine yourself in that situation, and well, maybe you wouldn’t have been such a good guy. As things happen at speed, you might not have seen the signals.

“The Overcoat,” by Nikolai Gogol

Gogol is a writer I always go back to again and again. “The Overcoat” is an incredible story. It’s a masterpiece, in my opinion just the best short story ever written. Heartbreaking and funny and totally modern. There’s nothing dusty about it.

“The Collected Short Stories of Isaac Babel,” by Isaac Babel

Master of the short story. Even Hemingway said that Babel was more concise than even he was. And Babel died at 39 or 40 in a concentration camp. And as they led him out to his death his last words were, “They didn’t let me finish.”

“The Night in Question,” by Tobias Wolff

He was my teacher at Syracuse. And anybody who loves a short story can learn so much just by seeing how tightly controlled the stories are. And when you read them a second time, it’s like that Hemingway iceberg theory: There’s a third of the iceberg above the water, and then what gives it its solidity is what’s below. But that’s something that only comes with the great craftsmanship that Wolff brings to bear.