New Thing #85: Tenth Of December

Tenth_Of_DecemberYou'll have to forgive me if you're a big reader and what follows sounds ridiculous to you. I just haven't had much time lately to read books written for adult audiences.

I read magazines, I read children's books (for school, of course)...once in a while if I read a regular, age-appropriate book it's a non-fiction book...usually sports, sometimes history.

In short - I rarely read literature. And even more rarely do I read contemporary literature.

So I wasn't familiar with George Saunders before I saw, right around New Year's, the New York Times Magazine article titled, "George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You'll Read This Year."

I was intrigued, to say the least.

Tenth of December is the book, and it's a collection of short stories.

I'm not sure - outside of maybe high school, which I barely remember - that I've ever really read a collection of short stories. Short stories are kind of a weird thing.

On the one hand, it seems like a big deal to come up with ten good, gripping stories, anywhere from 3 pages in length to more than 60. Is that harder than one long story? I don't know.

For me, it was a little difficult to be thrown into a story, and then right when you pick up the flow, it's over.

In some ways that makes me feel like short stories are kind of a cop out - why not write a full-length novel? (Or 10.) But in other ways, it is probably a sign of really good writing that you can get someone that attached and into a story in such a short amount of time.

There's a lot of open-endedness. I don't know if I love it - I want an ending. What happened? Is this character good or bad? I'm not sure I fully understand what's going on here. Are you telling me I need to think deeply about what I just read? I also wonder how one decides which of the short stories becomes the title story for the book. In that way I almost feel like a book of ten short stories is like a band writing an album with ten songs.

That said, these were good stories. I enjoyed reading the book. I think it's too soon to make a final call on short stories in general, and George Saunders in particular. By all accounts he's a good writer - he teaches at Syracuse, he's been awarded a MacArthur genius grant.

I just don't know if I'm ready to say that "George Saunders has written the best book I'll read all year." I'll say this - I also heard an interview with Saunders on the 'Bullseye' podcast - I really enjoyed listening to him and hearing him talk about where some of his ideas for some of these short stories came from.

So I think I'll be reading a couple more of his far as I know none of which was billed at the dawn of a new year as the best book of the year.

At the very least it's an opportunity for me to read something else that's written for adults.