Two events are converging this week: the arrival of George Saunders' new book, Tenth of December, which the Times has already called “The Best Book You’ll Read This Year,” and the initial descent of our New Year's resolutions into secret shame and self-loathing. I thought it’d be apt to collect some Saunders quotes that illustrate our most popular resolutions — and the failure and small victories that shadow them.
Saunders characters are always trying to do better: they are resolutionists. The joy, the gut-wrenching all-powerful-love-for-humanity experience of reading Saunders comes from his insistence that we triumph, as human beings, even in the midst of our absurd reality and despite our feeble promises. Take this excerpt, from the story "The Semplica Girl Diaries":
Asked kids to join me in new resolution. Told kids life short, we must make every moment count, live each day as if it were our last. If they have dream, must do. If they have urge to try thing, must try. Will they promise? If I have made one mistake in life, it is that I have been too passive. Do not want them making same mistake. Must dare, strive, be brave.
more time with family and friends
"Stood looking up at house, sad. Thought: Why Sad? Don’t be sad. If sad, will make everyone sad. Went in happy, not mentioning bumper, squirrel/mouse smudge, maggots, then gave Eva extra ice cream due to I had spoken harshly to her."
—"The Semplica Girl Diaries"
“Sometimes you think something’s wrong with you, but every time, turns out, there isn’t. Why beat yourself up about this and, in so doing, miss the beauty of the actual moment?”
"But secret looks, looks that conveyed a world of meaning with their subtle blah blah blah — that was all bullshit. What was not bullshit was a call to Child Welfare, where she knew Linda Berling, a very no-nonsense lady who would snatch this poor kid away so fast it would make that fat mother’s thick head spin."
[As Dylan says, searching around for the last of his list] I've got this somewhere around here. Oh, here it is: GET ORGANIZED.
“Note to self: Try to extend positive feelings associated with Scratch-Off win into all areas of life. Be bigger presence at work. Race up ladder (joyfully, w/ smile on face), get raise. Get in best shape of life, start dressing nicer. Learn guitar?”
—"The Semplica Girl Diaries"
more and better
“If we spend the hour before the shelf cleaning talking down the process of cleaning the shelf, complaining about it, dreading it, investigating the moral niceties of cleaning the shelf, whatever, then what happens is, we make the process of cleaning the shelf more difficult than it really is.”
BONUS Resolution! Keep
hope machine running
“People were always seeing through him and frying his ass ... The time he’d cheated on Syl, Syl had seen through him, broken off their engagement, and cheated on him with Charles, which had fried his ass possibly worse than any single other ass frying he’d ever had, in a life that, it recently seemed, was simply a series of escalating ass fries.”
All of our asses will be fried at some point. And yes, this accretion of resolutions is, in part, to mock the silliness that is the determination to somehow avoid or alleviate said ass-frying. But it is also to encourage a George Saunders way of thinking: a kind of humor, a kind of forgiveness, but most of all, a celebration at the wonder of being alive and achieving the kinds of greatness that we don’t ever plan for and can never expect.