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George Saunders's Quotes

George Saunders profile photo

Born: 1958-12-02
Profession: Writer
Nation: American
Biography of George Saunders

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And I have finally realized that, you know, it's not a given that my lifespan will accommodate my writing aspirations. It could be that it would take me 12 more books at six years each to get it - which means I would have to live to be 126. Which I fully intend to do, of course.

Tags: Books, Means, Writing

Early on, a story's meaning and rationale seem pretty obvious, but then, as I write it, I realize that I know the meaning/rationale too well, which means that the reader will also know it - and so things have to be ramped up.

Tags: Means, Pretty, Write

For me, the game would be to assume a very intelligent reader who can extrapolate a lot from a little. And that's become my definition of art; to get that pitch just right, where I can put a hint on page three, and the reader's ears go up a bit, as opposed to dropping it all on the first page.

Tags: Art, Game, Put

I could actually care less about the poor. We have some living near us, and pee-yew. They are always coming and going to their three or four jobs at all hours of the day and night. Annoying!

Tags: Care, Living, Night

I often think about image, and image is something that - but in truth, the real artistic process, as I've understood it, is 95 percent intuitive, like seat-of-the-pants, at-the-moment decisions that you can't even explain, you know?

Tags: Decisions, Real, Truth

I started out in engineering. I was a geophysical engineer. Throughout the course of my life I've done a lot of strange jobs, and the effect has been to make me think a little more skeptically about our capitalist society.

Tags: Done, Life, Society

I still believe that capitalism is too harsh and I believe that, even within that, there is a lot of satisfaction and beauty if you happen to be one of the lucky ones, although that doesn't eradicate the reality of the suffering. It's all true at once, kind of humming and sublime.

Tags: Beauty, Reality, True

I tend to foster drama via bleakness. If I want the reader to feel sympathy for a character, I cleave the character in half, on his birthday. And then it starts raining. And he's made of sugar.

Tags: Birthday, Character, Sympathy

I think fiction isn't so good at being for or against things in general - the rhetorical argument a short story can make is only actualized by the accretion of particular details, and the specificity of these details renders whatever conclusions the story reaches invalid for wider application.

Tags: Good, Short, Whatever

I think in our time, you know, so much of the information we get is pre-polarized. Fiction has a way of reminding us that we actually are very similar in our emotions and our neurology and our desires and our fears, so I think it's a nice way to neutralize that polarization.

Tags: Actually, Nice, Time

I turned 54 this year and I find myself feeling like I'm in a bit of a race to get down on paper the way I really feel about life - or the way it has presented to me. And because it has presented to me very beautifully, this is hard. It is technically very hard to show positive manifestations.

Tags: Feeling, Life, Positive

I was a big and un-ironic fan of Dear Abby when I was a kid in Chicago. I think I sort of internalized her. So I have this inner Abby: cranky, proper, folksy yet scathing, with a beehive hairdo. But that's my issue.

Tags: Big, Her, Kid

I was a straight arrow, a control freak. I didn't do drugs or drink, and this was the '70s. I didn't like the loss of control. Which isn't exactly right, because I didn't know what happened when you did drugs.

Tags: Control, Drink, Freak

I was trained in seismic prospecting. We'd drill a deep hole and put dynamite in the bottom and blow it up remotely, which would give you a cross-sectional picture of the subsurface, which tells you where to drill.

Tags: Deep, Give, Put

I wasted a lot of years working on my writing and very grandly saying, 'And now... My Novel!,' which would soon be reduced to a short story, then to a paragraph.

Tags: Saying, Working, Writing

I'm finding, as I get older, that I'm not much of a believer in redemption. I mean, I believe in redemption in real life - redemption does happen, and it's cool when it does - but I find myself getting leery of my desire for it in stories (especially my own).

Tags: Cool, Life, Real

I've had the thought that a person's 'artistic vision' is really just the cumulative combination of whatever particular stances he has sincerely occupied during his creative life - even if some of those might appear contradictory.

Tags: Creative, Life, Thought

If death is in the room, it's pretty interesting. But I would also say that I'm interested in getting myself to believe that it's going to happen to me. I'm interested in it, because if you're not, you're nuts. It's really de facto what we're here to find out about.

Tags: Death, Happen, Pretty

If you think of a work of fiction as a kind of scale model of the world, then the positive valences - where things turn out better than you thought they would - ought to be in there somewhere, too.

Tags: Positive, Thought, Work

It seems to me a worthy goal: try to create a representation of consciousness that's durable and truthful, i.e., that accounts, somewhat, for all the strange, tiny, hard-to-articulate, instantaneous, unwilled things that actually go on in our minds in the course of a given day, or even a given moment.

Tags: Goal, Strange, Try

It would be so weird if we knew just as much as we needed to know to answer all the questions of the universe. Wouldn't that be freaky? Whereas the probability is high that there is a vast reality that we have no way to perceive, that's actually bearing down on us now and influencing everything.

Tags: High, Reality, Universe

More and more these days what I find myself doing in my stories is making a representation of goodness and a representation of evil and then having those two run at each other full-speed, like a couple of PeeWee football players, to see what happens. Who stays standing? Whose helmet goes flying off?

Tags: Evil, Football, Off

My habit would have been to veer towards the dark - to prove I was something; edgy, or maybe to prove that I was cognisant of the dark side. Now, with age and confidence, I can say, yeah, that's true, but I am cognisant of the fact that people can do things well. And can be more loving than you expect.

Tags: Age, Confidence, True

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Much more quotes by George Saunders below the page.

So for me the approach has become to go into a story not really sure of what I want to say, try to find some little seed crystal of interest, a sentence or an image or an idea, and as much as possible divest myself of any deep ideas about it. And then by this process of revision, mysteriously it starts to accrete meanings as you go.

Tags: Become, Deep, Try

Stories, as much as we like to talk about them, retrospectively, as emanations of theme or worldview or intention, occur primarily as technical objects when they're being written. Or at least they do for me. They're the result of thousands of decisions made at speed during revision.

Tags: Decisions, Result, Talk

That for me was the big turning point in my artistic life, when my wife and I had our kids. The world got infused with morality again. Every person in the world should theoretically be loved as much as I love my daughters.

Tags: Life, Love, Wife

The best thing that ever happened to me is that nothing happened in writing. I ended up working for engineering companies, and that's where I found my material, in the everyday struggle between capitalism and grace. Being broke and tired, you don't come home your best self.

Tags: Best, Home, Tired

The chances of a person breaking through their own habits and sloth and limited mind to actually write something that gets out there and matters to people are slim.

Tags: Actually, Mind, Write

The cool parts - the parts that have won Dubai its reputation as 'the Vegas of the Middle East' or 'the Venice of the Middle East' or 'the Disney World of the Middle East, if Disney World were the size of San Francisco and out in a desert' - have been built in the last ten years.

Tags: Cool, Last, Won

The mind is a machine that is constantly asking: What would I prefer? Close your eyes, refuse to move, and watch what your mind does. What it does is become discontent with that-which-is. A desire arises, you satisfy that desire, and another arises in its place.

Tags: Become, Eyes, Mind

The universal human laws - need, love for the beloved, fear, hunger, periodic exaltation, the kindness that rises up naturally in the absence of hunger/fear/pain - are constant, predictable, reliable, universal, and are merely ornamented with the details of local culture.

Tags: Fear, Love, Pain

There's a really nice moment in the life of a piece of writing where the writer starts to get a feeling of it outgrowing him - or he starts to see it having a life of its own that doesn't have anything to do with his ego or his desire to 'be a good writer.'

Tags: Good, Life, Nice

We have that illusion that we are 'deciding' what to make a character do, in order to 'convey our message' or something like that. But, at least in my experience, you are often more like a river-rafting guide who's been paid a bonus to purposely steer your clients into the roughest possible water.

Tags: Character, Experience, Often

What a powerful thing to know: That one's own desires are mappable onto strangers; that what one finds in oneself will most certainly be found in The Other.

Tags: Found, Powerful, Strangers

Whatever your supposed politics are - left, right - if you put it in a human connection, most people will rise to the occasion and feel the human pain in a way that they might not if it was presented in a more conceptual way.

Tags: Human, Pain, Politics

When I was a kid, I took 'The Brady Bunch' and 'The Partridge Family' very seriously. It was a world to me in the same way that the Greek myths would have been had I read them. You know, Marcia is Athena and Mr. Brady is Zeus.

Tags: Family, Read, Seriously

When something really bad is going on in a culture, the average guy doesn't see it. He can't. He's average and is surrounded by and immersed in the cant and discourse of the status quo.

Tags: Bad, Culture, Guy

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. What I want is to have the reader come out just 6 percent more awake to the world.

Tags: Love, Read, Short

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.

Tags: Fear, Life, Love

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.

Tags: Good, Life, Truth

Developing our sympathetic compassion is not only possible but the only reason for us to be here on earth.

Tags: Compassion, Here, Reason

Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up.

Tags: Honesty, Irony, Volume

The word 'funny' is a bit like the word 'love' - we don't have enough words to describe the many varieties.

Tags: Funny, Love, Words

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.

Tags: Else, Real, Someone

Nostalgia is, 'Hey, remember the other mall that used to be there?'

Tags: Nostalgia, Remember, Used

I'm always aware of writing around things I can't do, and I've come to think that that's actually what 'style' is - an avoidance of your deficiencies.

Tags: Actually, Style, Writing

Back in 1992, I had my first story accepted by 'The New Yorker.'

Tags: Accepted, Story, Yorker

Character is that sum total of moments we can't explain.

Tags: Character, Explain, Moments

Chekhov - shall I be blunt? - is the greatest short story writer who ever lived.

Tags: Greatest, Short, Story

If you haven't read you don't have the voice. The lack of voice eliminates experience.

Tags: Experience, Read, Voice

It's funny with fiction - once you cut something, it hasn't happened anymore.

Tags: Funny, Happened, Once

So I may not have had a gothic childhood, but childhood makes its own gothicity.

Tags: Childhood, Makes, May

Sometimes I think fiction exists to model the way God might think of us, if God had the time and inclination to do so.

Tags: God, Sometimes, Time

That seems to be the definition of 'novel' for me: a story that hasn't yet discovered a way to be brief.

Tags: Novel, Seems, Story

There might be a different model for a literary community that's quicker, more real-time, and involves more spontaneity.

Tags: Community, Might, Model

We try, we fail, we posture, we aspire, we pontificate - and then we age, shrink, die, and vanish.

Tags: Age, Die, Try

When I write I know that I'm going to have to produce 40 percent more than I need.

Tags: Percent, Produce, Write

You know, you can talk about race, you can talk about sex, you can talk about your biopsy. But when you get into class, people kind of clench up.

Tags: Race, Sex, Talk

The artist's job, I think, is to be a conduit for mystery. To intuit it, and recognize that the story-germ has some inherent mystery in it, and sort of midwife that mystery into the story in such a way that it isn't damaged in the process, and may even get heightened or refined.

Tags: Artist, Job, May

To me, the writer's main job is to just make the story unscroll in such a way that the reader is snared - she's right there, seeing things happen and caring about them. And if you dedicate yourself to this job, the meanings more or less take care of themselves. That's the theory, anyway.

Tags: Care, Job, Yourself

When I'm explaining something to you, if I'm being long-winded, and twisty in a non-productive way, I could make you feel vaguely insulted. And you'd have a right to be.

Tags: Explaining, Insulted, Vaguely

You don't want to be that parent - the one who dresses his kid in a cloth sack when all the other kids are in Armani cloth sacks - especially in a time like ours, when materialism is not only rampant and ascendant but is fast becoming the only game in town.

Tags: Game, Kids, Time

A John Updike is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, if that generation is lucky: so comfortable in so many genres, the same lively, generous intelligence suffusing all he did.

Tags: Generation, Generous, Lucky