Monday, June 21, 2021

Swimming in a Pond in the Rain with George Saunders

George Saunders and I approach the teaching of literature and writing in the same way. But he has written it all down in a wonderful exploration of how we read. Saunders' latest book is a called A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, & Life. I just purchased the book after reading the first section on my Kindle from the library, and I simply fell in love with what Saunders is doing. For, really it is Saunders who is giving the master class on how to write and how to use the reading of great writers and, actually, also how to read. 

Any English teacher would benefit from reading this book -- it will inspire and invigorate you for the return to the classroom in the fall.

What I love most is how Saunders walks us through seven classic Russian short stories and shares his thinking (and thus teaching) just as he would if we were in his classroom. As a professor at Syracuse, he teaches a class on the Russian short stories as part of the creative writing program, and he walks students through the stories as an exercise in how to write. It's a requisite class for students who want to become writers, and it centers on the dialogue that exists, or should always exist, between an author and reader.

Basically, Saunders starts with the blank slate idea that a reader has when he first picks up a book, and then proceeds to query along the way about what we know once we start reading. It's the same approach I take when I introduce "reading at the high school level" to my honors ninth graders with Goulding's Lord of the Flies. We usually spend the first day on the first paragraph of the novel, and roughly half that time is often devoted to the first seven words -- "The boy with the fair hair lowered himself down." As we read, I continually ask questions like "what do we know, what do we wonder, what do we suspect, what do we hope ...?" Basically, I want students to think about their thinking while they read as a way of creating an active experience. For, great authors are always asking these same questions as they craft their stories from one line to the next.

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