Callum is Assistant Editor of The Cardiff Review and Lit Links columnist.

Callum McAllister

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

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.