‘The message of this book is that kindness is hard but that we should all try a little harder to be kinder’ – Congratulations, by the way by George Saunders

cbtwgsOkay so. In these cash straightened times, it is quite possible that a great many of you – yes, even those of you who have been following young George Saunders since the heady days of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (yes, even you, who have been possibly harrumphing about all of these Johnny-Come-Latelies who read The Tenth of December and talk as if George is an old friend, even as you take pleasure in having seen in George something – yes, something – all those years ago, thereby distinguishing yourself from all of those people who need the Guardian to point them in the direction of someone good, yes) – may not wish to shell out the £8.99 or so asking price for Congratulations, by the way. Yes, you may say, before I even so much as get my foot in the doorway of an explanation, but it’s George, and you really like George, you’d buy whatever he did etc etc etc. I understand. I feel the same way myself. Honest I do. I bought the audiobook of The Tenth of December (having read the hardback, may I add) just so I could hear what the stories sounded like read by George himself. Beat that.

But Congratulations, by the way is £8.99 and it barely runs to 50 pages of which almost half of them are a sort of flip book: you see stars in a sky, the stars grow brighter, the light extinguishes the dark, the black page becomes a blank white page. The Saunders content (see how I stopped calling him George – as if we were getting all pro-fesssshunal of a sudden?) is a graduation address that he gave at Syracuse University –  transcript of which was placed on the New York Times website only to then be shared millions and millions of times by George Saunders fans the world over (I’m coming to see that I call him George when I like him, Saunders when I’m a bit cross and then employing the full name when those two sides of the coin want to get together on a single side for a moment). So you’ve probably read it already at least once. What did you think of it? Did you like it? Yeah? Me too. Me too. Me too. And in that third me too is – dammit! – possibly the reason why you would want to buy it. It’s a small pocket sized book. It’s a comfort. Inside its pages you’ll hear George Saunders (George)/(Saunders) talking about kindness. It’s all very Vonnegutty. You’ll read it and maybe miss Vonnegut some and that will make you like George – George – all the more. Because we do like George don’t we? We do.

Any Cop?: The message of this book is that kindness is hard but that we should all try a little harder to be kinder. That feels like a good message for the world so I’m going to hold off on saying anything in any way derogatory or critical (because we could, you know, say David Foster Wallace did this first, with ‘This is Water’). And you know, because it’s barely 25 pages of words and the words are big you can keep coming back to this and – yes – I think we will. Don’t you?


About this entry