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Juan Martinez

The One Book That Unstuck My Writing

There are only two blurbs in the hardback of George Saunders’s CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, one by Thomas Pynchon and the other by Garrison Keillor. I bought the book because of the blurbs, and because it was on the remainder pile at the college Barnes and Noble, so it was $3.99. I was a shiftless and super shifty undergrad with no money for anything—I was an international student and worked the graveyard shift at the computer lab. For much of my late teens and twenties, I daydreamed I’d meet Pynchon, or Keillor, and that they’d recognize what a special talent I was, and how much we had in common, and they’d take under their wing and insist to their powerful agents and publishers that they take my brilliant writing and make me famous and rich.

I owe so much of my writing life to George Saunders that even this introductory bit is lifted from him, I just realized, even as I started writing it. Because I was going to begin by sharing how often I fantasized about meeting writers I admired, and it’s super common, this fantasy—writers meeting their idols, and then the idol recognizes your genius and you become best buds, and the idol lifts you from whatever dire circumstances you happen to be in, and your life is perfect from then on. I totally wanted to start with that—with confessing how often I thought of meeting Saunders—before I realized why I wanted to start with that.

And then I remembered that Saunders had shared the exact same anecdote about working as a doorman and fantasizing that some rich Hollywood person was going to recognize his genius and showering him with money and respect.

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