Callum is Assistant Editor of The Cardiff Review and Lit Links columnist.
Lincoln in the Bardo
Part of my reading philosophy recently has been to read what I want to write. For example, right now, at least, I’m writing short stories. So why, I asked myself, did I primarily read novels — I’m not writing a novel. If I was reading to learn how to write, then I was reading the wrong things. Of course, this is a very mistaken idea on two counts: that you can read the wrong things; and that reading should be partitioned in this way, or not simply motivated by what you want to read. But for over a year I consumed short story collections ravenously, which inevitably led me to the work of George Saunders, and then, to his novel — which I approached cautiously, treading carefully so as not to let the side down. But as a novel, it’s irresistible. It reminded me what is special about the form, and what new can still be done with the form. Simply being steeped in one world for a length of time is its own pleasure, and as a short story writer Saunders brings his word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence level of precision to every moment of the book. He’s a writer who doesn’t take the form for granted, but as a living, invented thing that he must craft in just the right way for the job. And it works.