A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life
by George Saunders
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, the latest book by George Saunders, is the ultimate writing class. He goes through short stories by four Russian writers—Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy and Turgenev—paragraph by paragraph or page by page to understand how they work, how they keep our interest, how they surprise us and what they tell us. He breaks them down to their skeletons and then shows how they are built up again. The book is an amazing journey into the mechanics/engineering/physics of stories, and why it is they do what they do.
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“A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is the most surprising book I’ve read this year. Most of the great Russian writers of the 19th century wrote short stories and, in this book, American author George Saunders teaches us what a handful of his favourites are about. It’s based on a class on Russian short stories he teaches to talented aspiring writers at Syracuse University. After class one day, he realized that “some of the best moments of my life, the moments during which I’ve really felt myself offering something of value to the world, have been spent teaching that Russian class.” He then tries to recreate that teaching experience in the pages that follow. It’s an extraordinarily successful effort. I don’t particularly enjoy short stories: I find them too short to be satisfying, but I was completely mesmerized by his explanations of what they meant to him, and what they can teach us about how to write effectively. After reading it, not only had I read some stories—by Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, and Nikolai Gogol—which I would never have embarked on otherwise, but I felt I’d spent a few days in 19th century Russia.” Read more...
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