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Publisher's Summary

Bloomsbury presents A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, read by George Saunders, Phylicia Rashad, Nick Offerman, Glenn Close, Keith David, Rainn Wilson, BD Wong and Renée Elise Goldsberry.

From the Man Booker Prize-winning, New York Times best-selling author of Lincoln in the Bardo, a literary masterclass on how to become both a better writer and reader, on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about how to live.

In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders guides the listener through seven classic Russian short stories he's been teaching for 20 years as a professor in the prestigious Syracuse University graduate MFA creative writing program. 

Paired with stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol, these essays are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it's more relevant than ever in these turbulent times. Saunders approaches each of these stories technically yet accessibly and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. For the process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is as much a craft as it is a quality of openness and a willingness to see the world through new eyes.

Funny, frank and rigorous, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain ultimately shows how great fiction can change a person's life and become a benchmark of one's moral and ethical beliefs.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 George Saunders (P)2021 Penguin Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A morally passionate, serious writer.... He will be read long after these times have passed." (Zadie Smith)

"George Saunders makes you feel as though you are reading fiction for the first time." (Khaled Hosseini)

"What warm, kindhearted and radical writing. Such delicacy, such serious wit. I love it." (Max Porter) 

What listeners say about A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

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One of the best books I've ever read!

This changed the way I think about reading and writing. It opened me up to a new world of analysis. The stories were beautifully explained. Yet one of my favourite parts of this book were the afterthoughts. Specifically one about the process of writing (or any creative work) that left me feeling inspired and lucky that I get to pursue my craft. It reminded me that all the obstacles I find in my work can only be overcome through continuing to work.

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  • Peter Buchanan
  • 06-10-21

a useful introduction but ultimately boring

I am a fan of some works of George Saunders (although I just couldn't wade through Lincoln in the Bardo and found it tedious with far too many side notes.) I have no previous with these Russian writers so thought I'd join Saunders university-type lecture to introduce myself to these writers. I was really quite disappointed with the short Russian stories although Saunders was a useful guide to their hearts. My problem was I found them turgid and leaden with gloom; not one of them was light on its feet. Also I'm not convinced they are masterworks or as strong as George would have us believe. They are rarely uplifting. They also suffer from being written ages ago and the translations are horribly dated, giving the feeling they are antiques, written in old fashioned phrases that jar. They might be interesting if you are studying Russian literature and culture from 1875 but they don't have any resonance to my life today. (Peasants in a bar having a singing competition etc.) They are laboured, in as much as nothing is short and snappy. Few head off in search of a happy ending! Its like looking at old brown landscape paintings. Actually its not that much fun. He underlines plots and the author's intent but it was not enough for me, to lift these depressing and stodgy tales out of the muddy ruts they are trying to push a horse drawn cart through. I got as far as The Nose by Gogol, a flamboyant 'comedy' where a nose removes itself from someone's face and takes on a life of its own. I presumed it was supposed to be satirical because it was not laugh out loud funny. It was quite annoying, and also impossible to skip onto the next story other than try to guess how long to skip forward and hope it had finished. Apparently Gogol's skills deserted him latterly. But Saunders was still trying to sell this as a masterpiece and telling us how great it was. I disagree. Even with his enthusiasm and quite a bit of turd polishing this was just not for me. George was saying it was written in the style of an unenlightened peasant (the unreliable narrator) who was deliberately getting things wrong and tripping over the facts. And that this was genius rather than just slack writing. Again I am not convinced. It may well be the case but somewhere between the rusty translation and the original idea I lost the will to continue. GS does his best to enlighten but I stopped believing his sales pitch with The Nose and will not be in a hurry to read (or listen to) any further Russian literature of this era.

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  • ron_chomp
  • 05-04-21

Brilliant

I loved this book. The concept is simple: read a 19th century Russian short story, then discuss it, like sitting in George Saunders' writing class. I'm not a fiction writer, and I've not read these stories before, but I found it endlessly fascinating. There's so much depth in there to dig, and Saunders is the perfect patient digger. I almost enjoyed the commentary more. He's funny and thoughtful and embraces feelings and complexity, reversing his position constantly. Production was perfect, stories are brilliantly read. What other genres can he do? I need more.

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  • View of Doon
  • 06-12-21

Totally engrossing

Really extraordinary. Illuminating, engrossing, life affirming.
Can’t recommend more although it appears I have to write five more words



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  • Miss C J Wright
  • 12-28-21

Wonderful wonderful book

I hadn't read any George Saunders previously but was hooked in by the concept of this: Saunders effectively gives you, for the price of an audible credit, part of his renowned creative writing class. I'm sure it's wonderful in print too, but I'd recommend it on audio because George reads it, so it is as close as I'll ever get to actually being in his class.

The book is 7 stories by 4 Russian Greats, interspersed with commentary by Saunders. In the first one he interrupts the story to explain things, then the other stories just play in full (read by actors) then he explains how they work afterwards. So you're getting two things for the price of one - seven great stories plus a wonderful writer helps you understand them.

Probably my favourite audiobook to date.

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  • Papergirl
  • 12-14-21

Accessible critical thinking for the art of storymaking

The first chapter alone of this book is worth the price of the ticket. Saunders brings the subconscious reader/writer process to the surface and very genially unbundles what goes on when we try to make or interpret a successful story (or in fact any creative work). Phylicia Rashad’s reading of Chekhov’s ‘In the Cart’ is superb (hence the five performance stars).

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  • I ain't givin' you no name
  • 11-05-21

A Master Class

I was unfamiliar with the 7 Russian Classic short stories that Saunders uses to discuss the form. They feel like a good and broad sample of the form, but for me they only truly came to life with the tour guide narration. This is a brilliant book for anyone who enjoys the short story form , but it is particularly enriching for wannabe writers.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-19-21

Inspiring read.

An inspiring read for anyone who loves writing and reading and wishes to know what happens in the writer's head as she writes.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-15-22

Too Moralistic and not Fun Enough

The author's commentary on each story is profound and yet I felt his approach too priest like,leaving out the visceral thrill of reading. He didn't address how bad, thematic and dull Chekov can be. His approach can also lead to over interpretation. Sometimes a sleigh is just a sleigh. Having said that I know I will revisit when I feel serious and solemn.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-16-22

Swim in a pond…

It’s wonderful. If you are a writer, read it. If you are not a writer, read it. And as this is an audio version you have the added joy of being read to, of hearing the writers voice, it’s a very good voice, they all are.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-31-22

Extraordinary!

Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky ... they all "came out of Gogol's 'Overcoat." The capacity to influence the future writers and enlighten future readers clearly belongs to George Saunders, too. I thank him for that every time when I return to the text he is analysing, eager to discover what I missed at the first, and second, and third ... reading.

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  • Felicity
  • 02-28-21

This is wonderful

If you like books about books, or books about creative writing, this is for you. George Saunders has the most beautiful voice and he talks in an engaging, unpretentious way about these stories, really unlocking what's special about them. For years I've avoided Russian short stories, regarding them as boring. But now I see I just needed a good teacher. As a bonus, Saunders encourages us to be more open and patient people. I was sad when this ended, but glad that I can listen to it again. (Note: some of these stories are quite long, but they are narrated well, so you find yourself just going with it.)

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  • Robert
  • 04-29-22

Wonderful

Beautiful book, beautifully read and conceived. It made me go out and buy the hard copy to I could savour it again, slowly.

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  • Alison
  • 07-17-21

Marvelous reflections on the short story form

The stories of Chekov, Tolstoy and the like can be challenging for the modern reader, but George Saunders' commentary on them is superb - particular in the final chapter. I wanted to transcribe it word for word.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-05-21

Thoughtful swim

This was quite a swim. The Russian short stories are interesting but become much more than that when George Saunders gives his thoughts on completion of the reading of each one of them. If you were to do nothing but hear his final afterthought as the book comes to an end you’ll be pleased to have acquired this fine book

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-02-21

Amazing

This book gave me so much joy and hope. Thank you, George, for your generosity in writing it.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-27-21

Or 'How I Fell in Love with Russian Short Stories'

Sublime narration and performances. An engrossing commentary on some of the best fiction ever written.

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 05-14-21

Excellent book for both writers and readers

Brilliant reading from Phylicia Rashad (In the Cart) and Keith David's reading of Master & Man might be the best thing I've heard on Audible . Highly recommended

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-25-21

Joy

Incredibly insightful, Saunders describes the art of storytelling in novel and honest lessons. A wonderful book for all those interested in what makes good writing and what gives it the power to move us.