As a writer, George Saunders is known for taking readers to unusual places: collapsing amusement parks, very small countries, the intersection of emotions, chemicals and ethics.
In conversation, he does the same thing. At least he did with me.
I had the opportunity to interview Saunders for Goodreads about his new book, “Lincoln in the Bardo.” It’s his first full-length novel and, on the surface, it’s about a night Abraham Lincoln went to the cemetery to mourn for his recently deceased son, Willie. But, naturally, it’s about so much more: remorse, forgiveness, the weight of history.
And our conversation was also about so much more. He talked about the role of Buddhism in his life, how he likes to play with history, and the purpose of compassion — even for people he doesn’t agree with.
I’m just trying to be really watchful in my own heart for any kind of gratuitous negative emotion. I’m [thinking] Jesus was here, Buddha was here, Gandhi was here, Tolstoy was here, Mother Teresa was here, and they all said basically the same thing: Our capacity for understanding the other is greater than we think. It’s not easy and we’re not very good at it habitually, but we can get better at it and it’s always beneficial. It’s beneficial to you, and it’s beneficial to the other. That’s what I say—in real life I’m swearing under my breath on the internet.