Nice Things Said Re: EWN

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    « Work of the Day - August 17, 2007 - The Turnaround is at Hand by Ralph Lombreglia | Main | Coming Soon. No, really. »

    September 07, 2007

    Comments

    Sam

    Jeff: so great! Dan: more Jeff!

    And why is "nice" so often treated as a backhanded compliment? George should do a nice essay on what it really takes to be nice. Or, which is saying the same thing, to be a grown-up, which is perhaps what you're getting at when you talk about morality.

    In Shanghai last year I listened to one the locals talk about the legendary rudeness of the Shanghainese. She commented on the polite queuing she observed in England, where she studied, versus the scrums that often take place in the Paris of the East. "I like standing in line," she said. "Standing in line is nice."

    Indeed.

    aaron

    >maybe I’ll just go have some coffee and spend the evening writing...

    Whahuh? I call bullshit.

    Czyzniejewski

    This is F-ing brilliant. Jeff, I wish you were my old student.

    Michael

    This is just a tiny echo of what Jeff just said, but last night was odd.

    After the kids were in bed and I’d been on the couch for an hour or so reading, I sat up and randomly turned on the tv, something I haven’t done in probably 4 months. Still not sure why I did. But there was George Saunders, just as Jeff describes him, sort-of nervous and real, touching his beard, walking the high wire of telling a real story in front of millions of viewers with the constant threat of Letterman slipping in a jibe or two. I was scared for him, and then, yes, everyone was laughing, and I wanted to go wake up my wife it was so perfect.

    In the spring of 1993, when George was still a technical writer in Rochester, he came down and read at my small liberal arts school. Our professor, Randi Davenport, had gone to SU with him, but the admin didn’t think he was a ‘big’ enough name at the time for a proper reading and she had to scramble for a venue. He ended up reading in a fraternity’s library. The audience was our workshop class and 15 fraternity brothers.

    After the reading, Randi took myself and 2 other students out for drinks with George. I had no idea what it meant to have a story in the NYer. I had no idea what writing meant, never mind publishing. I was mostly interested in how much George could drink. (I think he had one Amstel.) But like Jeff, what struck me was not just his humor ---which for the most part flew miles over my head---but that he was insanely NICE something that usually held no stock with the idiot I was then, but he managed to give NICE a dignity and badassness I didn’t know was possible. Also, I had no idea how cool this was at the time, but he read and took our stories seriously, which in retrospect is still insane to me. He drove an hour and read a few students stories and talked about them like we were real people. My story included a dream sequence in which the character’s father also has a dream. A dream of his father’s dreams. Ho ho!

    As he was leaving, he made the mistake of saying something like, “Best of luck and keep in touch.” Which was all I needed. A year later, I had completed another story. (This one had the son ask his father ((same characters)) for help getting a summer job, and the dad, a doctor, gives the son a job washing instruments at a hospital, and the son thinks this is really really harsh and sort of sad. Can you feel it?) Anyway, George was still at his tech writing job, and I wrote him and asked for a recommendation. I mentioned our long and involved history and said I’d paint his house. Two weeks later a recommendation arrived with some color suggestions. I think about this now, if a random kid who I met once and was writing lazy boring self-involved stories, wrote me and asked me for a recommendation, would I? HELL NO. But he did and it’s still amazing to me and often makes me think this is one of the many differences between someone like him and myself. A sort of true empathy for a world that probably doesn’t care back.

    Anyway, last night was pretty perfect. As was this post. Thanks Jeff.


    Michael

    p.s. I should note that I didn't get into any programs that year even with his recommendation and I did not paint George Saunder's house.

    Benjamin Chambers

    George Saunders does sound like an all-around great guy, but what I've read of his fiction makes me wonder why he's so revered as a writer. Both *Civilwarland in Bad Decline* and *Pastoralia,* his first two collections, contained a surprising number of stories that repeated the basic premise of a historical theme park run amok: funny the first time, but wearing upon repetition. I see he's been busy publishing (and winning a MacArthur) since the last time I looked, so no doubt he's since displayed more range, but Jeff, you don't have to imagine that person who doesn't like his fiction: I exist, all right, and I doubt I'm alone. Heck, I might even start a club.

    It's ironic that he would appear on Letterman, since by doing so he participated in exactly the kind of corporate trivialization of culture and history that his first two story collections critiqued (even though folks here report that he made it through with his dignity intact). I don't blame him for going on Letterman -- he's got a living to make, we're all eventually caught by such contradictions, and it's hard to step *outside* without participating in corporate trivialization of something worthwhile -- but I'm surprised no one else here mentioned it.

    Dan Wickett

    "Jeff, you don't have to imagine that person who doesn't like his fiction ..."

    Actually, I think Jeff was stating he couldn't imagine anybdy not liking Saunders, the person, not his fiction.

    As I said in my intro, I've not read enough of Saunders to truly have an opinion on his writing, but usually find disagreements in opinion interesting if the discussion remains intelligent - so, thanks for chiming in.

    Kyle Minor

    I wish for more "corporate trivialization" of culture and history like what I saw the other night with George Saunders and David Letterman. This kind of corporate trivialization will be all right with me every night of the week, and I shall celebrate it as often as it arrives in my living room.

    barry graham

    good write parker, but the real question to me, the real question to everyone who read all the way through is: how do you get the first date? - see you in october man - god bless - bg

    snackywombat

    This is superb! Thank you

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