Is it okay to say I love you? What a large-hearted person you are. Love the photos. Thank you for sharing! :)

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"We might say that we read stories to prepare ourselves for the coming trouble." This--along with the whole "oppress the comfortable" discussion--really resonates, and it also sort of points to the great overlap (has a causal link been demonstrated yet?--I'm a scientist, so I have to ask!) of people who read fiction and people with high levels of empathy/emotional intelligence.

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Oh I love this post, and I needed this post. As Keats wrote, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." As Murdoch wrote, "The past buries the past and must end in silence, but it can be a conscious silence that rests open-eyed." It is hard and beautiful work to be in this life, and then to try to tell a story that really, honestly, resembles it. When we feel adrift, there are words like George's that encourage us to see it all, as it is, every shade of it, and that everything will be okay.

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George, you write (of Flannery O'Connor's stories): “You are capable of joining me in seeing this,” she seems to say. And you write about her stories that: "they are joyful in the way they celebrate human brokenness." I understand (or think I understand) your point here. Yes, the truth can be painful, but when we are saturated by that truth, when we feel our connectedness to humanity through that truth, there is, as you say, an uplift. But (I think you knew a "but" was coming), that doesn't mean a story isn't "sad" or "dark" or that a story doesn't sometimes throw us into a dark place from which we need to recover. To say all stories that come from a place of non-falsity are uplifting is to stretch things a bit, I think. Because some stories ARE sad. Yes, we may also feel a million other ways. But let's talk about Brokeback Mountain for a moment, a story that killed me. Yes, there is much to lift me up. It's a story about love, first. And that is uplifting. But, it's also a story about thwarted love, and death. Yes, these are real and human--but they also cause me great sadness. Certainly, I feel uplifted by the writing, by the characters' love, by their struggle, by the way I can relate and empathize with their feelings. I yearn for them, and that is a human reaction and one that connects me to the writer and to other readers. But I'm also terribly, terribly saddened by that story. (I chose this story because it ruined me, but it's been awhile since I've read it, so I'm not going into detail here. I'm sticking to my feelings.) It's not that I, personally desire more uplifting stories. I don't. But i do continue to feel for the writer of the question that sparked this discussion in the first place. I feel that person has a right to acknowledge that reading many short stories can take a toll on one's heart. The word "sad" may not be the right one here. But he felt something, and he felt it strongly. And I want to understand and acknowledge his feelings. Brokenness is only an uplift when you see it through your tears. When you see that human pain is shared. But the tears--they are real. And some stories are sad.

I love this post of yours today--it is perhaps my favorite one of yours to date. I agree that Delfina's quiet dignity is uplifting. And I love all that you say here about change in stories and truthfulness. (I do want to acknowledge that some stories offer a character change but that the character does not take it--Remains of the Day had this, I think, no?) Thank you for the photos and the updates. See you soon in Los Angeles!

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This post moved me into a paid subscribership ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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Here is a short story: Just now I am reading the New York Times Book Review on my iPad. I am reading my favorite column called, By The Book. Today the author is Kevin Wilson. When ask about the writers he admires most, part of his answer is the following:

“Aimee Bender and George Saunders came to me when I was a college student, desperate to figure out how to write about weirdness with an open heart, and I feel like they pushed me in the direction that would become my identity as a writer. I could not love them more.”

I was literally just reading those words. And then I received a notification that there was a new Story Club post and in it, George talks about how “the story has given me a boost in love, to take with me.”

There’s a lot of love here. A lot of love! Small wonder how we are all drawn into this amazing journey called Story Club. We can feel it. It’s amazing, and, such a balm in this crazy world. Thank you George for your open heart. My God do words matter.

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Oct 27, 2022·edited Oct 27, 2022

What lovely glimpses of New York, thanks George. And for the meditation on darkness. Reading your thoughts, I kept turning to the stories of Alice Munro whose work I have often heard described (reductively) as "sad." For me she's like a conductor, or maybe conduit because she seems to channel the whole spectrum of human experience and emotion. It's true many of her stories contain tragedy, but I end up feeling enriched by them, having been so expertly invited to share in her characters' lives. I agree it's the empathy engendered that uplifts.

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I flew from Louisiana to St Louis for the event last night. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was happy to represent Story Club.

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Thank you, George. You'll never know how much I needed exactly this exactly now.

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Oct 27, 2022·edited Oct 27, 2022

To play with a quote from Anais Nin, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are" in this case can be, “Sometimes, we don’t see stories as they are, but as we are.”

Also, I love the Greenlight Bookstore! What a great place.

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Thank you George for your lovely, sensitive post from the road (I'm picturing you pecking this one out on your laptop/device...) and struck immediately by the stark contrast between your Zone of Sensitivity and the Zoo of Noise and Rancor that seems to colonize our popular, media and political culture now.

But then, I wonder, thinking back on previous Zoo of Noise and Rancor Eras I've lived through as a boy (Vietnam, Assassinations) and adult (Reagan, The Los Angeles Uprising, Newt Gingrich, 9/11, Trump), hasn't it ever been thus? Artists lived in these eras, made their art, in their hopefully precise and expressive ways, as a counter to the Noise, the Rancor. (Or, thinking of A SWIM, the Russian writers working in the tumultuous late-Tsar era, or Babel amidst the warfare of the 1920s.) A beautiful example that comes to mind is Robert Rauschenberg's magnificent, often funny mega-collages, mixing and blending found images of the moment (a lot of Cold War and Space Race stuff) and turning them into something poetic.

The act of art-making itself is a profoundly positive, life-affirming act, possibly the most life-affirming short of birthing a child; but the ones that last, as you underline (and this is for me the most important point in your post), are those that tell the truth to the reader, that don't spoon out bullshit. A ton of entertainments do bullshit-serving; a great entertainment, like Jordan Peele's NOPE this summer, refuses to do this, and it's interesting to ponder what the difference is. The answer--really, key--might be this in the form of a question: is the artist giving me something true about human nature, or is it off, somehow, not quite true, or maybe wildly phony? The other keys/questions for me: Are we being manipulated? Is the artist setting up straw men, to send a message, to skew things to prove an already baked-in point? And the usefulness of asking these questions to heighten our sensitivity to our own capacity for spooning b-s into our own stories: When am I being dishonest, to myself, to the reader?

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George: I heard you in Boston—TERRIFIC! And thank you thank you for this post, especially:

"The perfection of the artistry lifts me up, as does the precision of the descriptions. When I’ve read it, I feel more, not less, able to go out into the world and do what I have to do, with attentiveness and as much love as I can summon up – and the story has given me a boost in love, to take with me.

And this is true of all good stories, regardless of their surficial “happiness” or “sadness.” The writer, writing, might be thought of as a sort of role model. What truly uplifts and inspires us is watching that writer thinking through things, in the form of a story, with empathy and warmth and genuine curiosity — then I feel inspired to try to do the same, in my own work, once I’m back out there in the real world."

Who else writes about writing like this? NOBODY.

Thank you for your honesty—it's so shockingly human and direct.

Like Rosanne Scott says "You'll never know how much I needed exactly this exactly now."

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Oct 27, 2022·edited Oct 27, 2022


You had me at, “the only sad story is a falsified one.”

Again I am floored by the sensitivity and insight in your analyses, George.

The power and beauty of seeing clearly and communicating honestly, with deep compassion, are so highly honored by your comments.

Holy shit. (Best words I can come up with right now...)

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Sending out a hug to each and every one of you who showed up here today. May we each find what we need and want. I'm grateful for George, this group, the ability to observe all individual reactions because they expand my awareness, and the opportunity to find light in the darkness. Be well in your words and Life ❤️

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Random Brownian thoughts.

Yes, in a few years you'll look like the Amazing Randi.

Nice tee shirt, but still a little expensive - Story Clubbers should get a discount, after all, we are the Elect.

That bottom corner book should have been tucked in. Mr. Monk wouldn't like you.

If all stories are about "triumph," does that make "1984" a story about triumph?

I'm not sure where I'll ever use it, but "AutoDarkness" is now in my vocabulary as an official Saunderism. (Maybe I'll put it on my tombstone - "I'm not really dead, I'm just in AutoDarkness Sleep Mode. Press stone to awaken, or call technical support.")

So onto the show...

This, of course, deserves a longer treatment then I'll give it here because there's an awful lot to unpack, but I think it boils down to the question of is fiction objective or subjective ie is there really a time where an author's thumb isn't on the scale? A character may not appear to have material resources in "real life," (whatever the hell that is nowadays), but they always have their minds - the simpliest yet most stunning example is from "2001" where Moonwatcher looks at a bone, starts playing with it, and realizes it could be a club and changes mankind forever. (Also adding Stanley's wry observation that we haven't changed that much either.)

So is Munoz describing "reality" or did he tilt the scales so Delfina could lose with "dignity"? Is it realistic that someone, especially a poor someone, wouldn't at least hate someone who stole their car? (Hubby sure is probably not going to accept its loss with "dignity," so is he a worse person for probably wanting to pound the crap out of Lis?)

My problem with "dignity" is that it never seems to apply in contemporary mainstream stories as "victory with dignity" but "losing with dignity," that is, Life's a Bitch and then you Calmly Die with Dignity - no rage, raging against the dying of the light. Not Dignified.

So, did Munoz really believe there was nothing to be done? No one has a cell phone? (Even bums have cellphones today) that could call other friends at other groves and say "My Galaxy was stolen by a woman named Lis. Have you seen it?"

I just can't buy it. I can't buy that this woman would have such a passive reaction to the loss of the car, and I don't think many readers (outside the Defeat with Dignity crowd) will/would find it a realistic or attractive reaction either.

I'm tired. All for now.

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Greenlight is a special place for me as well. From late spring through summer of 2020, one of the pieces of art that I consumed with zeal was Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet of novels. I consider them an essential part of maintaining sanity through those turbulent times. When I finished the first book, I immediately had to get my hands on a copy of "The Story of a New Name". At that point in the pandemic, Greenlight was only doing curbside pickup in scheduled pickup appointment slots; a far cry from the pleasure of going to a bookstore with a specific title in mind and spending an hour browsing the shelves aimlessly. However, I remember a beautiful day biking across Brooklyn to get to the shop and delighting in the pleasure of getting a new book, even in this bizarre, abbreviated manner. I was grateful for the people who showed up to work in so that I could get that book at a time when it was most needed.

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