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Some Thoughts on Kindness

by George Saunders

Pub Date: April 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9627-2
Publisher: Random House

Another example of an author who might well reach a wider audience through a graduation speech than through anything else he has written.

Long revered among fans and fellow writers, Saunders saw his popular profile elevated through even greater attentions paid to (and accolades earned by) his most recent story collection, Tenth of December. In contrast to the playful postmodernism that often characterizes the work of the New Yorker writer and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, this meditation on kindness that he delivered in 2013 at Syracuse (where he teaches creative writing) is transparent in its message, which, he admits, is “a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.” His address took him eight minutes to deliver—it subsequently went viral, like that of a similar address by the late David Foster Wallace—and takes less time to read. But its self-deprecating tone is as pitch perfect as one would expect from Saunders, and the advice it imparts seems sincere and ultimately more helpful than the usual platitudes, as he explains how “most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving” and as they mature, perhaps become parents, begin to see how soul-deadening selfishness can be and how the struggles of ambition can put one on a seemingly endless cycle. There’s plainly a spiritual underpinning here, as the author writes in favor of “establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition—recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.” The loving selflessness that he advises and the interconnectedness that he recognizes couldn’t be purer or simpler—or more challenging.

A slim volume appropriate as a graduation gift.