george saunders favorite books

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In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

By Tobias Wolff

Wolff's first collection of stories is near to my heart because it convinced me to come to Syracuse and study with him, which turned out to be one of the great blessings of my life. At the time I thought a writer had to be wild, thoughtless, and somewhat insane, ideally addicted to something. But Wolff—a wonderful father and husband, protective and loving with his students—taught us that not only was it unnecessary to be a wreck of a human being, it was, in fact, necessary to strive to be an excellent human being: alert, forgiving, funny, morally engaged in the world around you. My favorite story in this wonderful book is "Hunters in the Snow," which hugely influenced the current generation of American writers in the way it used realist technique to depict absurdist behavior.