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“I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of fed up with realism. After all, there’s enough reality already; why make more of it? Why not leave realism for the memoirs of drug addicts, the histories of salt, the biographies of porn stars? Why must we continue to read about the travails of divorced people or mildly depressed Canadians when we could be contemplating the shopping habits of zombies, or the difficulties that ensue when living and dead people marry each other? We should be demanding more stories about faery handbags and pyjamas inscribed with the diaries of strange women. We should not rest until someone writes about a television show that features the Free People’s World-Tree Library, with its elaborate waterfalls and Forbidden Books and Pirate-Magicians. We should be pining for a house haunted by rabbits.” - Kelly Link

Planning for Love

“When I was 17, I fell in love for the first time. His name was Dylan. I had first noticed him when he performed the Elvis Costello song ‘Alison’ in the Beaver Country Day School Talent Show. His voice was thin and cracked in places during the song, but something about him up on stage playing the guitar with his eyes shut and his head thrown back got to me in a way nothing ever had before. He rocked along as he played, spastically dancing in a mustard-colored suit that he wore with a skinny black tie. He looked goofy and exposed and I felt like he was singing to me. I approached him afterward and told him I thought he should have won instead of the girl who twirled batons to the Star Wars theme. In a few days, we were going out. And a few months later, I was ready to have sex for the first time.

I drove to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near my home in Belmont. In the waiting room there were a few middle-aged women and some young couples who were holding hands, some married and some not. I took a chair next to a hugely pregnant, crying girl who was a few years younger than me. Her mother sat with her, frowning sternly and ignoring the girl’s whimpering. I wondered what my mother would do if she knew I was here.

My mother wasn’t like other mothers. She didn’t bake cookies or go to PTA meetings; she wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She had slept with too many men, and some women, and she didn’t like dogs or children. The last time I had confided in her about romance, I’d told her I thought the boy who mowed our lawn was cute. She’d delivered a lecture on 'hot-blooded Latin types’ and the next week seduced the lawn boy in our backyard pup tent. He never came back.

Despite my mother’s long history of promiscuity, I had very little actual knowledge of what happened between men and women, and I was grateful to have access to someone who could help me. When I heard my name called, I followed the nurse down the hallway to a small examination room.

I sat on the padded table in a paper dress waiting for the doctor to come in. I had left my socks on because I was cold. I stared at the brightly colored oven mitts with a kitty-cat pattern on them that covered the stirrups at the opposite end of the table. I wondered if the oven mitts were meant to keep the stirrups warm or to help catch a flying baby. On one wall was a large medical drawing of the female reproductive system with everything labeled in large red letters, as if issuing a warning: Danger, Uterus Ahead! On the other wall was a travel poster advertising the Swiss Alps. I pondered the possible connection between the vagina and all that snow and ice. Would losing my virginity be exciting like being transported to the top of the highest mountain, or would I be frigid, feel nothing, and wish I’d stayed home? There were no magazines to look at in the room, so I bit my fingernails while I worried and waited.”

Read the rest of Wendy Lawless’s original essay on the Powell’s Blog.

“That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack. That concentrating on anything is very hard work.”


- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Saunders: I love doing it. It’s really enjoyable. And I think those stories really cracked open my thinking and led to this book — being out in the world and having to describe things. So in my mind, I’m thinking, If I ever get a little bit sedentary in my fiction, then I’ll definitely take one of those trips, because it busts open the world and makes things seem fresh again.

Jill: Here at Powell’s, you’ve had lots of die-hard fans for years, but I was talking to two different people in publishing last night about you who said, “Where did he come from?” They hadn’t heard of you until this last book. How does it feel to suddenly be topping bestseller lists?

Saunders: Well, Powell’s has always been so good to me, since the very, very beginning, so I hope to convey some of that appreciation when I come out there. But it’s been a really interesting month, basically, since the book came out. I don’t quite get it. [Laughter] It’s really fun, and I’m thinking about it, for sure. Probably too much, but I don’t really understand what happened.

I mean, that New York Times piece was so incredible, with that headline that was such an ornery throwdown. That was great. But my wife thought that if you look at it as a line, maybe one end is dark, edgy, weird, and the other is the opposite of that. She thought maybe the culture moved towards acceptance of weird, dark, edgy, and I maybe moved a little bit in the other direction — a little more accessible, a little less hesitant to be realistic. So maybe there’s some kind of happy moment where those things crossed.

But I’m really enjoying it and trying to treat it a little bit like a science experiment, like: What is it like to actually get more attention? It’s very interesting when you think about the fact that most of the people in our country who run shit are people who have had 10 times more attention for a long, long time — our politicians and musicians and actors and directors. They operate in a zone that’s a much more exaggerated version of this all the time. That’s interesting anthropologically because what I’m noticing, just in my baby way here, is that when you get a lot of attention, your mind does this thing. It turns towards you and your phenomenon. Whereas a fiction writer’s mind should be turned outward. It’s kind of like a birthday syndrome. On your birthday, you’re so happy because everyone’s bringing you cake and stuff. And then the next day, you’re like, Hey! Where’s the fucking cake? [Laughter]

So I’m taking this as a hopefully brief opportunity to see how the other half lives and maybe write some stories about it. I understand narcissism better than I did a month ago. It’s almost a natural human tendency if you’re getting approval that you want more, and you become a little full of shit. It’s like if you eat a lot of beans, you’re going to get farty. [Laughter] It’s not a character flaw; it’s just what your body does in the presence of too many beans. But it’s been a lot of fun so far.

Read the rest of the Powells.com interview with George Saunders.

“That old adage of writing comes to mind: write the book you need to read. But I wanted to write a book that someone else might need to read. There’s nothing more sacred to me — more important to me — than a book. Maybe I feel we don’t connect personally with films the way we do with books, the way I hold a book to my heart when it moves me or grasp it like I might never let it go. I admit, I like to hug books. I’m not sure a movie ever meant that much to me; I know it’s different for other people. I don’t believe a movie has ever changed me or saved me, but there’s easily 20 books on my bookshelf that pulled me out of something or pushed me in another direction or showed me something I needed to see.” — Marjorie Celona

Click through to read more of Marjorie’s original essay at Powells.com.