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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life

4.62  ·  Rating details ·  2,708 ratings  ·  655 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling, Booker Prize–winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December comes a literary master class on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about ourselves—and our world today.

For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University.
Kindle Edition, 403 pages
Published January 12th 2021
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Jennifer I just asked someone on Goodreads who read and reviewed an advance copy. He replied: IN THE CART (Chekhov), THE SINGERS (Turgenev), THE DARLING (Chekh…moreI just asked someone on Goodreads who read and reviewed an advance copy. He replied: IN THE CART (Chekhov), THE SINGERS (Turgenev), THE DARLING (Chekhov), MASTER AND MAN (Tolstoy), THE NOSE (Gogol), GOOSEBERRIES (Chekhov), ALYOSHA THE POT (Tolstoy)(less)
Ally Yes, the stories are all there. Each text is followed by analysis, food for thought, if you will. It is a wonderful read!

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Start your review of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life
A book that achieves exactly what it sets out to, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is essentially a writing class in book form. Your instructor is George Saunders, and while his personality shines through, please note that this book could not be further from the experience of reading Saunders’ fiction.

For a start, a good chunk of this book is not by Saunders at all, but a bunch of dead Russians. Seven short stories by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev and Gogol to be precise and no, you can’t skip the home
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing

If you’ve never had the pleasure of taking a course in creative writing from George Saunders, this is your chance to take advantage of what he has to share without spending a semester in Syracuse, New York. This time of year, especially, it makes sense to opt out of the chillier weather and sit in on some of the lessons, virtually, as Saunders’ shares with his Syracuse students, in a master class on the Russian short story.

He includes two stories by Tolstoy: Master and Man and Alyosha the Pot, t
Katia N
Jan 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Reading this book I was acutely aware that I was not the main audience for it. It is written as a result of the course Saunders is teaching for many years to the aspiring young writers as a part of MFA program. I am just a reader. And, if I would want to write a story (unlikely), I would definitely stay away from any formal advice on the matter. Saunders, and presumably the majority of his students do not speak Russian. So they read these stories in translation. I am a native Russian speaker so ...more
Adam Dalva
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was lucky enough, a couple of years ago, to attend a Saunders masterclass on"Gooseberries" - he was an unforgettably good lecturer, and conjured a warmth in the room that I recall happily, often. I've seen him talk a couple of times since, and both times radically amazed me, though slightly less so than the "Gooseberries" lecture. There is something about those sparking experiences, perhaps, that led to me feeling a slight disconnect from this charming, smart writerly analysis of stories by To ...more
Spencer Orey
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was exactly the book about how to write and think about short stories that I'd been looking for, like the MFA class I've always wished I could take.

There's a mix of classic Russian stories, commentary that helped me think about what about the stories is working and how, and larger thoughts on writing fiction that always felt generous and helpful without getting pushy. That's a tough balance, and this book nailed it.

I listened to the audiobook and was pleasantly surprised. The author reads h
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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: (1) noticing ourselves responding to a work of art (where we were before we read it and where we were after) and (2) getting better at articulating that response. What I stress to my students is how empowering this process is. The world is full of people with agendas, trying to
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[4+] More Professor Saunders, more! Saunders heightened my appreciation and understanding of each of the 7 stories (by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol) contained within this volume. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is geared towards writers but is perfect for readers who wish to look deeper. Saunders' commentary is NOT "literary criticism" but is everything literary criticism should be - readable, witty, useful and very enjoyable. How wonderful it would be to have a selection of other classic s ...more
Chris Via
In teaching circles, the word "lecture" has a bad name. Many would call it well-deserved -- often those who sat in huge lecture halls at college listening to professors drone on (vs. talk).

It could happen in more intimate settings, too, as in a small class of 20 boxed off in a room looking remarkably like high school classrooms (only with a few tendrils of ivy curling in from the bricks outside the window).

Reading "Professor" Saunders' thoughts on seven Russian short stories, and what they mean
Connie G
Writer George Saunders has been teaching creative writing for years, including a course about 19th Century Russian short story writers. Reading this book feels like attending a mini college class with the professor you wish you had as a teacher. Saunders is enthusiastic, warm, and humorous with a conversational tone.

The book consists of the texts of seven short stories, discussions of techniques used by the Russian writers, and an afterthought about how it relates to Saunders' own writing. The s
For over 20 years, Saunders has been teaching in the MFA program at Syracuse University, especially on how to write a short story by learning from the masters or, rather, from what we believe went into their craftsmanship. In this book, Saunders samples 7 out of ca. 40 stories from the Russian masters he and his students discuss throughout the semester, distilling the most important elements in his approach to short story writing. If anyone is interested in what other stories he includes in his ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
As I read A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, I found I am taking a class on the Russian short story, a class on how to write, a class on close reading; a class on the meaning of life. I am in the hands of a master.

George Saunders has been teaching a class at Syracuse University about the Russian short story, and this book, this very unique book, is his class. He shares seven classic Russian short stories by four different Russian authors: In the Cart by Anton Chekhov; The Singers by Ivan Turgenev; T
W.D. Clarke
Feb 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could "listen" to George Saunders "lecture" me about literature all day. He's a hero of mine, and so a book such as this one is tailor-made for a reader like me. And, honestly, I often found his analyses of these classic Russian stories more interesting than some of the stories themselves. Or, rather, the incredible closeness of his attention to them makes them more interesting than my all-too-cursory first-reading ever could—what Saunders showed me is just how lame-arsed a reader I can be. Fo ...more
Claire Fuller
What I loved most about this, is how Saunders' voice came through in the anecdotes, the analysis of the Russian stories, and his writing advice. I've seen and heard him talk a number of times (although not in real life), and his gentle manner and clear style is very evident. Most ideas for how to write a short story - as he says towards the end - were confirmations for me, rather than any startling new insights, but that was okay. What maybe lost it a star was that the weighting of story analysi ...more
Jul 03, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: on-writing
You probably couldn't ask for a better teacher of writing than George Saunders.
He's largely considered the modern master of the short story and his prose is at once gorgeous and experimental. He won the Booker Prize with his first novel in 2017. His collection Tenth of December is astonishingly well-crafted. He's also a teacher at the distinguished Syracuse MFA program.
This is definitely a book to look out for.
Mar 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author of this novel presents us with these three facts about him in the beginning:
‣grew up in Chicago
‣becomes an engineer
‣loves Russian literature

I could place these facts in the "about me" section of my GR profile and there would be no lie. I was internally screaming and fangirling to find a book that was written by someone like me, for me. Isn't that the best feeling in the world? A book that speaks to you as if it had your own voice.

5 million stars / 5

These random tidbits aside, this nov
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
I'm happy I read (listened to this). I felt like I grew as a reader. I only took one English course in University so it was fun to in effect take a master class with George Saunders exploring these Russian short story classics. If you are a serious reader, it is a worthwhile book to pick up. ...more
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This might be my all-time favorite book on craft. It's just so generous and gentle, so easy to get your arms around George Saunders' ideas of what makes good writing. This book will ACTUALLY convince you it's okay to write a sh*tty first draft, and why, and will take away any lingering sense of shame you might have around "bad" writing (which is just writing that hasn't yet been revised to express the fullness and specificity of your writer self! Thank you, George!).

My personal writing approach,
Kiran Bhat
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
In this collection of essays, Saunders walks the reader through the Russian writers whom he has been most influenced by. Using a colloquial, almost narrative style, Saunders shares a sample of a story, then deconstructs what makes it work. What is on full display is not only Saunders’ love for the classics he has chosen, but his general literary chops. The essays are so acccessibly written that have the readability of a novel, and Saunders voice is so present that it really feels like he is in f ...more
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spring-2021
If Goodreads added the ability to add a sixth star to books, this would be among the first I'd upgrade.

Who among us hasn't fantasized about applying to get an MFA at Syracuse and study the art of the short story with George Saunders? This book is as close to that as most of us (certainly, me) are going to get. The book is structurally inventive, replicating the feeling of a seminar-style close reading of several Nineteenth Century stories by Russian authors with a focus on technically appreciat
Jason Furman
Maybe the best book about how to read--and understanding how author's write--that I have ever read. This is a short version of a writing course George Saunders have given for two decades that takes students (or in this case the reader) through the mechanics of seven Russian short stories. The first one is the most thrilling as Saunders prints one page at a time of Anton Chekhov's "In the Cart" interspersed with his commentary. The commentary is on how the story works, why Chekhov chooses a certa ...more
Diane S ☔
Apr 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf-2021
I've taken several literature courses through the year, but never one just centering on the short story. Now I have and though of course there is no feedback I do actually feel like I've taken a class on deconstructing a short story.

The first story the author chooses is, In the cart, by Chekhov. This is the only story out if seven he takes us through page by page. His thoughts on reading, and he does teach this class in person, and what and why the author uses the words he does. What do they mea
Oct 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley-books
I like my fiction meaty, long, full of characters that I feel like I know inside and out, with a setting that feels like home which is why the short story format has never really spoken to me. Apparently, I just have never had George Saunders explain in full detail exactly why short stories are so tautly and expertly written. This book includes seven short stories by Russian authors such as Chekhov and Tolstoy and then a lesson taught by a master himself going through the short story and its nua ...more
Mar 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is inconceivable to me how George Saunders can get away with spilling all his writing secrets. Does McDonald’s give away the recipe for their “special sauce? Does Outback educate their diners on how to make a Bloomin Onion at home? Does Drakkar Noir tell you what combination of smells one needs to smear all over themselves to make themselves irresistible to women everywhere? Of course not, they want to stay in business. I can only imagine the caterwauling trembling wreck of Mr. Saunders’s age ...more
Scott Stelter
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reaffirmed why reading is so important and meaningful. Did feel like a class in the sense that some of this was interesting and engaging, whereas some was not.
This book is unlike any book-about-books that I have read. Since George Saunders focused so much on writing concisely, I am actually nervous about writing my review. But I will press on. In his writing class at Syracuse, Mr. Saunders analyzes short stories, breaks them down for multiple purposes and brings these stories to life for his students who write their own short stories. In this book, he teaches his class of Russian short stories in a readable, fun, fascinating way for both writers and r ...more
Laura Edwards
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting. I enjoyed the humor George Saunders injects into his narrative. I think I would have enjoyed taking one of his classes. He also seems open-minded and would welcome discussing dissenting viewpoints (i.e. he's not a know-it-all or one of those professors who thinks their word is law). Good for him. Even when I did not agree with his take on one of the stories, it was interesting to consider his POV. And even if the academic portions at the end of each story isn't to your liking, you c ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Here is George Saunders giving a taste of what it is like to attend his masterclass in writing the fictional short form with examples from some of his favorite stories by Russian writers, of course, featuring more than one by Chekov. The stories were chosen not necessarily because they are considered to be best, but because each holds a special meaning for Prof. Saunders and is an example of technique.

A benefit of this time during quarantine is availability of zoom interviews that would be impo
Rachel Edney
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Every page captivated me
Jo Ladzinski
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Read a NetGalley eARC

This is my first foray into nineteenth century Russian short stories and Saunders’ experience teaching them page-by-page shines through this craft book that is also a specific craft study. Saunders selected works by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol to explore how these stories work and the connections between readers and authors.

What really stuck out to me about this collection was the subjectivity of the analysis and the dispersal of advice. Saunders makes it abundantl
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George Saunders was born December 2, 1958 and raised on the south side of Chicago. In 1981 he received a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He worked at Radian International, an environmental engineering firm in Rochester, NY as a technical writer and geophysical engineer from 1989 to 1996. He has also worked in Sumatra on an oil exploration geophysi ...more

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