My Favorite Writers’ Favorite Books: George Saunders

George Saunders is an uber-favorite: kind, brilliant, hard-working. I’ve never met anyone who said a bad word about him, and he was very generous when I met him outside a bathroom where his wife was using the restroom, and forced him to talk with me, even after I blurted out that I love him.

Here are some of George’s favorite books:

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

George calls it “miraculous.”

Publisher’s description:

Following on the heels of his New York Times bestselling novel Telegraph Avenue, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon delivers another literary masterpiece: a novel of truth and lies, family legends, and existential adventure—and the forces that work to destroy us.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

Publisher’s description:

On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

George said he loved it “for its scale and heart and moral ambition and the high-wire act she does (and yet so casually) with language.”

Publisher’s Description:

Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

George said it’s “mind-blowingly heartful and had me weeping on a plane.”

Publisher’s Description:

Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Beautiful proof that the truth told urgently always yields poetry,” says George.

Publisher’s Description:

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

George says he goes back to this book “before trying to write anything ostensibly comic, just to recalibrate myself to greatness.”

Publisher’s Description:

A guy walks into a bar car and… From here the story could take many turns. When the guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved.

Words Without Music: A Memoir by Philip Glass

George said it “had a powerful effect on me — made me resolve to believe in the power of art more fully and be less hesitant to take chances.”

Publisher’s Description:

Philip Glass has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet in Words Without Music, his critically acclaimed memoir, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creative fusion when life so magically merged with art. From his childhood in Baltimore to his student days in Chicago and at Juilliard, to his first journey to Paris and a life-changing trip to India, Glass movingly recalls his early mentors, while reconstructing the places that helped shape his creative consciousness. Whether describing working as an unlicensed plumber in gritty 1970s New York or composing Satyagraha, Glass breaks across genres and re-creates, here in words, the thrill that results from artistic creation. Words Without Music ultimately affirms the power of music to change the world.

Sula by Toni Morrison

George says of the book, “What a delight that was: a page-by-page walk-through of the way a truly great human mind thinks and reasons and invents and celebrates and mourns.”

Publisher’s Description:

Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal—or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

George said he was “thrilled by the genuine but meaningful strangeness of” this book.

Publisher’s Description:

Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.


Small print: I’m a writer who connects writers with books, programs, and writer toys that make the writing life easier or more fun. As it turns out, people get paid for that. So some of the links I have are affiliate links, which means that, at no cost to you, I get a commission if you click through and buy something. If I recommend something you don’t agree with, just let me know. I stand by everything I suggest as a resource that will help you be the writer you want to be. 

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