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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain  By  cover art

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

By: George Saunders
Narrated by: George Saunders, Phylicia Rashad, Nick Offerman, Glenn Close, Keith David, Rainn Wilson, BD Wong, Renée Elise Goldsberry
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Publisher's summary

From the New York Times best-selling, 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 20 years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times.

In his introduction, Saunders writes, “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art — namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?”

He approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft, but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.

This audiobook includes a PDF of the tables, outlines, figures, and appendices from the book.

©2021 George Saunders (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

"Saunders is a gentle giant in American letters whose fiction frequently champions the downtrodden and satirizes a society rife with economic inequality.... [A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is] an analysis of classic Russian fiction that doubles as an introductory seminar on the mechanics of short stories - namely, how do they work and why?... Why does fiction matter now? The answer, Saunders finds, lies in understanding reading to be a kind of life skill - for understanding our position in the world, for arbitrating truth.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“This book is a delight, and it’s about delight, too.... [A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is] very different from just another ‘how to’ creative writing manual, or just another critical essay.... One of the pleasures of this book is feeling [Saunders’s] own thinking move backwards and forwards, between the writer dissecting practice and the reader entering in through the spell of the words, to dwell inside the story.” (The Guardian)

“A master of contemporary fiction joyously assesses some of the best of the 19th century.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Editor's Pick

Nobody does it like George Saunders.
If you haven’t already listened to Lincoln in the Bardo, I highly suggest you give it a shot; it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. And if you are, like me, interested in how Saunders does it, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is one of the most enjoyable explorations of writing technique out there. Saunders takes us through four highly refined and compelling pieces of Russian fiction, each narrated by a celebrity. In fact, the narration across the board is way better than it has any business being. I’ve always loved Saunders’s performances especially. Akin to a gentle grandfather reading you a story (his voice reminds me of spritelier Peter Falk from The Princess Bride), he interjects at precisely the right cadence. Even if you aren’t planning on writing the next great Russian novel, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is an immersive exploration of storytelling, perfect for anyone who loves good fiction. —Michael D., Audible Editor