George Saunders
The writer finds salvation, good company, and new twists on old truths in shimmering short stories and novels, plus a blue-eyed masterpiece.
The scariest thought in the world is that someday I'll wake up and realize I've been sleepwalking through my life: underappreciating the people I love, making the same hurtful mistakes over and over, a slave to neuroses, fear, and the habitual. But wow, how to avoid this? Aren't I actually doing this even now, every day? Prayer helps, meditation helps—and so does reading. Reading is a form of prayer, a guided meditation that briefly makes us believe we're someone else, disrupting the delusion that we're permanent and at the center of the universe. Suddenly (we're saved!) other people are real again, and we're fond of them. The world is bright and new, workable, worthy of our attention. This grass (that sun, these emotions) are the same grass/sun/emotions found in Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith and Tolstoy: What a privilege to be here, in this recently Literature-sanctified world! Fiction is a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth. Is life kind or cruel? Yes, Literature answers. Are people good or bad? You bet, says Literature. But unlike other systems of knowing, Literature declines to eradicate one truth in favor of another; rather, it teaches us to abide with the fact that, in their own way, all things are true, and helps us, in the face of this terrifying knowledge, continually push ourselves in the direction of Open the Hell Up.

George Saunders's first collection of essays is The Braindead Megaphone.

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