Loving George Saunders

Probably every fiction lover has had a book come along and unscrew their cap right off. Lincoln in the Bardo, a book I finished this week, has turned out to be my own personal sleeper hit of the year.

The love, the love of it. The deep abiding empathy for the sad, comical, zany human experience in all of its wonderment. The sheer acrobatics of the form, the language! And to top it all off, not a single fanciful element that feels gratuitous, that does not somehow form the necessary platform harnessed to elevate the ideas of love and death and grief around which the book spins. (Experimentation with heart, not ego: #literarygoals.)

Every love affair with a book for me begins with hearing about it and letting it first languor in my queue of "To Read" books for a while, finally to pick it up to skim its first few pages sort of by chance. Then if I like it, I'm off: the next few hours or days are spent rushing toward the next time I'll get to sit down and enjoy the pleasures of communion with the mind of the author, of revelry in the English language.

Very often the love affair (if the book is special indeed) does not end, however, with the turning of the last page. With certain books I will proceed to imbibe hearty quantities of commentary on the book. Reviews, interviews with the author, Goodreads comments, etc., all help me get a sense of how others have responded, whether this author received their critical dues!, what terminology or critical lenses are applied to articulate the ever-ineffable virtues of any deserving work of literature. An amateur self-schooling in criticism, you could also call it.

But with Lincoln, I hesitate. I feel too fond, too protective. It's a curious feeling, one I have had inklings of (I still have not bothered to go into the undoubtedly vast oceans of scholarship on Lolita or Hamlet, both of which are among my "desert island" books). But never to such an extent as this, where the obstacle to further immersion is my very affection for the author's gleaming intellect—and certainly his heart, for who could deny that Saunders must have a vast and supple and luminous one to produce such a work as this?

Why protective, why hesitant? Why not extend my stay at the Hotel de Saunders, elongate the pleasures of the book just a little more via my habitual immersion in the analytical writings produced thereof? Why not bask in participating in the community of fellow-appreciators, the secondary benefit of any kind of fandom?

I cannot be sure. But I suspect it's something to do with a desire to sustain the book as one that I can revisit again and again, and one from which I can glean rich threads of thought or idea that lurk beneath the surface of the initial reading. I want more from this book, for it clearly contains such immensities, and to indulge too readily in reading other people's hasty or (God forbid) dismissive reviews of it would make me feel both possibly indignant but also robbed of the chance to tease out my own deeper, more complex readings without the sullying of second opinions. I am being jealous, in other words. The relationship is between my mind and the book, and ifyouplease I prefer it to be untouched by the opinions or feelings of others. 

What is this rambling ode? Whence this reflection? Part boredom and part delight. It's a gangly love letter of sorts, I suppose, to Saunders, to the book itself, to the power of fiction and language. Certainly a recommendation ("10/10 WULD READ AGEN"). And as ever, an outcry of delight at this strange craft of art, art whose role in the human experience is so abiding, so utterly useless and yet inestimably powerful in potential—when stewarded, of course, by authentic genius.