George Saunders

Finished this book awhile ago but had two quotes I wanted to hold onto:

“To study the way we read is to study the way the mind works: the way it evaluates a statement for truth, the way it behaves in relation to another mind (i.e., the writer’s) across space and time. What we’re going to be doing here, essentially, is watching ourselves read (trying to reconstruct how we felt as we were, just now, reading). Why would we want to do this? Well, the part of the mind that reads a story is also the part that reads the world; it can deceive us, but it can also be trained to accuracy; it can fall into disuse and make us more susceptible to lazy, violent, materialistic forces, but it also can be urged back to life, transforming us into more active, curious, alert readers of reality.” (p.8)

“A story is a series of incremental pulses, each of which does something to us. Each puts us in a new place, relative to where we just were. Criticism is not some inscrutable, mysterious process. It’s just a matter of (I) noticing ourselves responding to a work of art, moment by moment, and (2)getting better at articulating that response.
What stress to my students is how empowering this process is. The world is full of people with agendas, trying to persuade us to act on their behalf (spend on their behalf, fight and die on their behalf, oppress others on their behalf). But inside us is what Hemingway called a “built-in, shockproof shit-detector.” How do we know something is shit? We watch the way the deep, honest part of our mind reacts to it.
And that part of the mind is the one that reading and writing refine into sharpness.” (pp.60-1).

Saunders, George. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. New York: Random House, 2021.