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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

What the critics say

“Nothing has been read its last rites more frequently than the American short story. George Saunders proves, yet again, to be the form’s one-man defibrillator.” (Harper’s Magazine)

“One of the most gifted, wickedly entertaining story writers around.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“Subversive, hilarious, and emotionally piercing . . . Few writers can encompass that range of adjectives, but Saunders is a true original—restlessly inventive, yet deeply humane.”—Jennifer Egan “The best short-story writer in English—not ‘one of,’ not ‘arguably,’ but the Best.” (Mary Karr, Time)

What listeners say about A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

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  • Scott Garrioch
  • 2021-01-14

An innovative and fresh listening experience

Saunders has a knack for oration and it feels like he's holding class in your head. A true privilege to be his pupil as he raises Chekhov's gun and shows us what all the bullets are for. As a teacher of lit myself I have picked up a ton of analysis and new understanding. The art of short story becomes nothing less than mankind's best religion through this type of exploration. Saunders nails a Gladwellian approach that feels like a hybrid textbook, podcast, and motivational self help book... With wonderfully performed stories narrated by pros. The whole experience is creatively edited. My best audiobook experience in ages.

8 people found this helpful

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  • njwxyz
  • 2021-01-22

Just Superb!

I found this master class extremely interesting and informative. Not just with regards to the mechanics of fiction, but in life and relationships. The author/narrator is a superb guide.

I have been reading fiction all my life, but now I have a much better understanding of it and how different elements relate and bring meaning, or maybe purpose, to a story. Anyway... even as a non-author, I found it extremely interesting. Thanks, George. :)

4 people found this helpful

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  • DiLea
  • 2021-01-28

For everyone

This book is a gift. It is for readers and writers and anyone who needs what stories give us: a ride into the mind of another person. Whatever your notion of the book is, it is better, sweeter, more mystical.

The audio version is especially wonderful since it performs nineteenth-century stories that contemporary readers might find hard going. Gogol, Tergenev, but especially stories by Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy are carefully unlocked and reflected on by George Saunders . You can feel love and wonder in his voice as he talks to us about all the ways these stories are relevant and necessary.
You could say that this is a book about writing—or the craft of writing— written by a master of the form. But at its core this is a book about reading, carefully and thoughtfully in order to understand something essential about what living is for.

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  • Delphine C. Lucas
  • 2021-02-24

What a Delight

I love reading the famous Russian writers and I also love to read short stories. I had not read any of these stories in this collection before, so everything was new. I liked hearing the six stories read by different performers, and I enjoyed hearing each story analyzed by George Saunders. I always wanted to take a college class like this one, but there is nothing like that where I live. I am a reader and not a writer, but always interested in what makes writing compelling, so I occasionally read books by some of my favorite authors on how to write. Each story spoke personally to me, especially The Singer, as I am a musician and was going through a rough patch at the time of listening to this story. It helped me reorient myself again to play music from the heart, as these great Russian writers write from the heart. I really enjoyed this book.

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  • Teri Kline
  • 2021-02-10

A Revelation

I’ve been waiting for a book like this my entire adult life. Everything about it is perfect. The performances of those reading the seven stories are incredible. George Saunders is my dream teacher. What a gift this book is!

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  • Hallie
  • 2021-01-26

A great read even if you're not a writer

I really loved the russian short stories and the break down of the writing process. It was so enjoyable.

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  • Burdette V. McLaughlin
  • 2021-01-17

Not for me

this would be great for students I just wanted to hear the stories not for me

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  • John C. Menszer
  • 2021-02-23

Not just about literature but about life.

This is a book not just for writers, or for readers, but for anyone interested in people. A great teacher is someone who can guide his students to a different way of thinking, and then get out of the way. George Saunders’ musings and analysis give us ways to expand our understandings of the short stories that are almost structured but also intuitive. He also knows when to disappear. His voice and the readers’ voices are wonderful. I especially liked the Tolstoy stories.

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  • jdk
  • 2021-02-10

Breathtaking!

In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain George Saunders shares himself with his readers. I can think of nothing else like it. "What a piece of work" indeed!

I'm in breathless awe at what the book achieves. It's both a masterclass of craft and living instance of art as it unfolds for us the exquisite prose of some tales its author loves.

A giant atop giants, and such a generous, honest man. I'm left quaking.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2021-02-02

A lecture. Not a story.

Not what I expected. Tedious.I did not the the examples he used to make his points.