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Tenth of December, by George Saunders

Vista Book Group: Tenth of December

The Vista Book Group met in July to discuss Tenth of December, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, which was a National Book Award finalist and named to several Best Book of the Year lists for 2013 including the New York Times Book Review, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews.

From the Publisher:

One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet.

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should “prepare us for tenderness.”

The collection consists of ten short stories, the last of which lends the book its title, with one short story being the shortest one I’ve ever read at only a page and a half. Our favorite stories in the collection included Escape from Spiderhead, Tenth of December, Home, Chivalric Fiasco, Al Roosten and Semplica Girl Diaries. Many of the stories have a kind of sci-fi aspect to them which many of us enjoyed, especially the dystopia like Escape from Spiderhead. Themes that are the foundation of the book are family dysfunction, loss of control or in some case too much control, and a great deal of angst. There is also some very dark humor in this book, which is both disturbing and hilarious. Many of the stories deal with moral questions, which lead to some very interesting discussions.

Vista Book Group rated Tenth of December 3.3 out of 5 stars. We found this book very disturbing, a little weird, and a lot funny. It is a challenging read and the stories and themes definitely make for a lively discussion. The publisher and several critics call Tenth of December one of Saunders' “most accessible short story collections yet”, which made us wonder what his other writings have in store for a reader. Check out the BookForum article, “Beyond Good and Evil”, linked below for a great write up about Tenth of December.

After reading and discussing Tenth of December, many of us concluded the author must be an extremely interesting individual and well worth going to see speak. If you reach the same conclusion after reading the book, then you are in luck because Mr. Saunders is scheduled to speak at the University of South Carolina’s Open Book Series on March 18, 2015. See the link below for information on USC 2015 Open Book Series.

Some author-a-likes that we came up with were:

  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Some read-a-likes include:

  • CivilWarLand in Bad Decline : Stories and a Novella, by George Saunders
  • Congratulations, By the Way : Some Thoughts on Kindness , by George Saunders
  • In Persuasion Nation : Stories, by George Saunders
  • The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, by George Saunders
  • Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell
  • His Illegal Self, by Peter Carey
  • Birds Without Wings, by Louis De Bernieres
  • Vista Book Group will be meeting on Wednesday, August 27, in the Film and Sound Café, from 6-7:30 to discuss A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. We still have book group copies available if you’d like to pick one up. Inquire at the Research desk on the second level of the Main Library.


    Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders
    Amazon Says: NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Pe more...
    Amazon Says: NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY People • The New York Times Magazine • NPR • Entertainment Weekly • New York • The Telegraph • BuzzFeed • Kirkus Reviews • BookPage • Shelf Awareness One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet.   In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In “Home,” a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill—the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.   Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.   Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December—through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit—not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should “prepare us for tenderness.” NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER “The best book you’ll read this year.”—The New York Times Magazine   “A feat of inventiveness . . . This eclectic collection never ceases to delight with its at times absurd, surreal, and darkly humorous look at very serious subjects. . . . Saunders makes you feel as though you are reading fiction for the first time.”—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner   “The best short-story writer in English—not ‘one of,’ not ‘arguably,’ but the Best.”—Mary Karr, Time   “A visceral and moving act of storytelling . . . No one writes more powerfully than George Saunders about the lost, the unlucky, the disenfranchised.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times   “Saunders’s startling, dreamlike stories leave you feeling newly awakened to the world.”—People   “It’s no exaggeration to say that short story master George Saunders helped change the trajectory of American fiction.”—The Wall Street Journal   GEORGE SAUNDERS WAS NAMED ONE OF THE 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD BY TIME MAGAZINE less...
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    CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
    Amazon Says: From the New York Times bestselling author of Tenth of December, a 2013 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction. A New York Times Notable Book "This book is a r more...
    Amazon Says: From the New York Times bestselling author of Tenth of December, a 2013 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction. A New York Times Notable Book "This book is a rare event: a brilliant new satirist bursting out of the gate in full stride, wildly funny, pure, generous—all that a great humorist should be."—Garrison Keillor "An astoundingly tuned voice—graceful, dark, authentic, and funny—telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times."—Thomas Pynchon "Scary, hilarious, and unforgettable . . . George Saunders is a writer of arresting brilliance and originality."—Tobias Wolff "A cool satirist and a wicked stylist. The quirkiest and most accomplished short-story debut since Barry Hannah's Airships."—Jay McInerney, The New York Times Book Review "Ingenious . . . full of savage humor and originality [and] scorching brilliance . . . the author creates a nightmarish post-apocalyptic world that might have been envisioned by Walt Disney on acid."—The Philadelphia Inquirer "The debut of an exciting new voice in fiction. Mr. Saunders writes like the illegitimate offspring of [Nathaniel] West and Kurt Vonnegut, perhaps a distant relative of Mark Leyner and Steven Wright. He's a savage satirist with a sentimental streak who delineates, in these pages, the dark underbelly of the American dream: the losses, delusions, and terrors suffered by the lonely, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden and the plain unlucky. . . . Bizarre events pop up regularly in CivilWarLand like road signs on a highway, directing the reader toward the dark heart of Mr. Saunders's America. What powers the stories along is Mr. Saunders's wonderfully demented language, his ear for absurdity and slang, his own patented blend of psychobabble, techno-talk and existential angst. Mr. Saunders's satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it is also ferocious and very funny."—The New York Times         less...
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    Amazon Says: NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of more...
    Amazon Says: NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of The New York Times, where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times. Why? Because Saunders’s words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives. Powerful, funny, and wise, Congratulations, by the way is an inspiring message from one of today’s most influential and original writers. Praise for Congratulations, by the way   “As slender as a psalm, and as heavy.”—The New York Times   “The graduating college senior in your life probably just wants money. But if you want to impart some heartfelt, plainspoken wisdom in addition to a check, you can't do much better than [Congratulations, by the way].”—Entertainment Weekly “The loving selflessness that [George Saunders] advises and the interconnectedness that he recognizes couldn’t be purer or simpler—or more challenging.”—Kirkus Reviews   “Warm and tender.”—Publishers Weekly less...
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    Amazon Says: Flannery O'Connor, a unique and important figure in the Southern literary tradition, was one of the finest writers of the twentieth century. This volume, containing her two no more...
    Amazon Says: Flannery O'Connor, a unique and important figure in the Southern literary tradition, was one of the finest writers of the twentieth century. This volume, containing her two novels, short stories, essays and letters, is the only complete collection of her works. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: Gappers will get your goat. Literally. If you don't brush them off and return them to the ocean, whence they arrive every day, these bright orange, many-eyed creatures will co more...
    Amazon Says: Gappers will get your goat. Literally. If you don't brush them off and return them to the ocean, whence they arrive every day, these bright orange, many-eyed creatures will cover your goats, and the goats will stop giving milk. In a village called Frip, goat's milk was the entire economy. Three families lived there--the Romos, the Ronsens, and a little girl named Capable and her widowed father, who wanted everything to remain the same. It didn't. One day, the Gappers, despite an average IQ of 3.7 (±.02), decided for a good reason to concentrate on Capable's goats. Oh, how the Romos and Ronsens turned their backs on the gapper-ridden Capable! Oh, how they indeed lorded it over her! What kinds of creatures are we, one wonders, when such selfishness so often springs up so spontaneously among us?   And, given the coldness of her neighbors' shoulders, what will Capable do about her Gapper plague, as her share of the economy dries up? Literally. The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, with a brilliant story by award-ridden short-story master George Saunders and fifty-two haunting and hilarious illustrations by bestseller-plagued artist/author Lane Smith, answers that question. In doing so it tells a tale as ancient as the Bible and as modern as a memo from the Federal Reserve Board. And funnier than both--which isn't saying all that much, admittedly. You don't get to laugh and gaze in visual awe and pleasure all that often when the Golden Rule comes under such serious attack and such staunch defense as it did in Frip. An adult story for children, a children's story for adults, an earthlings' story for aliens, an oceanside fable for the landlocked, a capitalist tool for anarchists, a fish story for loaves, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip represents the classic instant of two young geniuses colliding and colluding. The result is--what else?--an instant classic! less...
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    Amazon Says: Welcome to the Monkey House is a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s shorter works. Originally printed in publications as diverse as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fic more...
    Amazon Says: Welcome to the Monkey House is a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s shorter works. Originally printed in publications as diverse as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and The Atlantic Monthly, these superb stories share Vonnegut’s audacious sense of humor and extraordinary range of creative vision.   less...
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    Amazon Says: From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts more...
    Amazon Says: From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts at their inimitable best. A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood. Karen Russell is one of today’s most celebrated and vital writers—honored in The New Yorker’s list of the twenty best writers under the age of forty, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and the National Book Foundation’s five best writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her wondrous new work displays a young writer of superlative originality and invention coming into the full range and scale of her powers.   less...
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    His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
    Amazon Says: When the boy was almost eight, a woman stepped out of the elevator into the apartment on East Sixty-second Street and he recognized her straightaway. No one had told him to ex more...
    Amazon Says: When the boy was almost eight, a woman stepped out of the elevator into the apartment on East Sixty-second Street and he recognized her straightaway. No one had told him to expect it. That was pretty typical of growing up with Grandma Selkirk . . . No one would dream of saying, Here is your mother returned to you. His Illegal Self is the story of Che—raised in isolated privilege by his New York grandmother, he is the precocious son of radical student activists at Harvard in the late sixties. Yearning for his famous outlaw parents, denied all access to television and the news, he takes hope from his long-haired teenage neighbor, who predicts, They will come for you, man. They’ll break you out of here. Soon Che too is an outlaw: fleeing down subways, abandoning seedy motels at night, he is pitched into a journey that leads him to a hippie commune in the jungle of tropical Queensland. Here he slowly, bravely confronts his life, learning that nothing is what it seems. Who is his real mother? Was that his real father? If all he suspects is true, what should he do? Never sentimental, His Illegal Self is an achingly beautiful story of the love between a young woman and a little boy. It may make you cry more than once before it lifts your spirit in the most lovely, artful, unexpected way. less...
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    • BookForum
      Article from BookForum: Beyond Good and Evil, by Zach Baron (about George Saunders' Tenth of December)
    • 2015 Open Book Series | University of South Carolina | College of Arts and Sciences
      The 2015 Series runs Mondays and Wednesdays for six weeks: March 16 - April 22, 6 pm, in the program room of the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library on the University of South Carolina campus. Each Monday will feature host Elise Blackwell (or a guest speaker) talking about one of the books, followed by the author's appearance each Wednesday. George Saunders will be speaking on March 18, 2015.
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