Truth be told, I did not actually hang out with George Saunders, if by that phrase you mean sit and have a beer at a bar with a guy who’s a very fine short story writer and essayist. But Monday night at Stanford, when George Saunders was the Lane Lecturer and read an essay and a story and then answered some questions (including, “where does all this come from?”), I really did feel like I had hung out with him even though I was just one of a lot of people cracking up at every other sentence out of his mouth.
Laughter does that. (I also hang out with David Sedaris, Richard Russo and Mark Twain.) A guy who makes fun of all that is pompous in the world is your friend, without question. He knows how much that pomposity has bummed you out in the past, because it used to hurt him too before he figured out he could just make fun of it. Plus, Saunders also has things to say about redemption and compassion. And he doesn’t like big companies very much.
I’ve been to hear other Lane Lectures at Stanford — last year I heard Colm Toibin and Ian McEwan read. But Monday night’s was by far the best attended. The guy doesn’t even write novels, so the turn-out amazed me. But then he read his two pieces and I could see why so many Stanford undergraduates had foregone their usual five mile run to hear him. He’s funny and crazy and something about that really draws you in.
Oh, and the answer to “where does all this come from?” is “I just start writing about some small thing and before I know it crazy things happen.”