Flavorwire Exclusive: George Saunders on His Favorite Short Story


The short story can be a magical thing. It’s a breath, a moment, a captured mood — or an entire teeming world packed into a few pages. Maybe, if it’s really great, it’s both. The only trouble with short stories is that not enough people read them. So, in a new series to celebrate Short Story Month (and help you add to your reading list), Flavorwire is asking some contemporary masters of the form to talk about the short stories they love. In the first installment, George Saunders, whose most recent collection is the tremendous Tenth of December, recommends one of his many favorites.

George Saunders: I’ve got a lot of favorite short stories, but one I especially love is “In the Basement,” by Isaac Babel. It’s one of the best and cringiest and most heartbreaking stories on class I’ve ever read, and ends with a crazy last paragraph that features the image of a grandfather taking castor oil so as to take a dump on his grandson’s grave — what’s not to love? It’s also a mini-seminar on how to use quoted materials (in this case, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) in a story, and how to escalate — there’s a great and unforgettable familial meltdown that makes everything similar on cable look like The Brady Bunch.