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Read it. Out loud. Please?

Only rarely, can I get my kids to read  to me.
Every night, as I crawl into bed next to them at bedtime, they beg me or my husband to read a few pages to them. They aren’t big into reciprocation.

Even if I convince them, a few paragraphs into it…my eyes will be closed and I will inevitably hear a pause, and then longer pauses still, and when I open my eyes, I realize they are now reading silently to themselves. Slowly they become absorbed. Quickly they forget me, there beside them.

(There are, I do realize, worse family challenges to have.)

Last night, I attended Narrative Night in San Francisco. Narrative Magazine is a very cool non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve literature for future generations in a digital world. Online and for free. It promotes the art of storytelling, encouraging and publishing both emerging and proven writers.

Imagine my surprise when I found 300 people there.
(BookSnobs all in one place!)

They were honoring three amazing writers:

Anthony Marra: winner of the Narrative Spring 2009 Story Context, currently a student at Iowa Writers workshop and  an author to keep your eye on. Trust me, you’ll be hearing his name more. He read from his story Chechnya.

Ann Beattie. Prize winning short story writer and teacher at the University of Virginia. Read from a hilarious story called The Four Night Fight, an absurd tale about the love and conflict of a married couple.

James Salter: Pen Faulkner winner and novelist of Light Years, Burning the Days and  A Sport & A Pastime. Read from a story called Charisma. It’s been 15 years since I have read anything by Salter and within 30 minutes I couldn’t help but think: How had I forgotten?

But wait.wait.
That’s not the best part.

These talented authors all read their stories. Aloud. Out loud. In their entirety.

300 noisy people, immediately silenced as each author, in turn, took the podium.
No shifting in their chairs, no stifled coughs, no whispering between friends. Just excited adults craning their necks to see, some closing their eyes and concentrating intently. Massive, energetic applause at the end.

The way Beattie quickened her pace as she talked about the fight between a married couple. The way Salter hit the F-word with such emphasis. The measured way of their tone. The way they felt each word they had painstakingly written. It was magically good.

Narrative themselves has some great audio readings on their site–so take a look.

Or, do check out The New Yorker’s fiction podcast series. It’s great authors reading other authors work.

When was the last time you heard a good book out loud? Do you listen to audiobooks? How are we going to preserve hearing authors’ stories in their own voice??

It’s an indulgence I suddenly remembered I would hate to lose.

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16 Comments Post a comment
  1. mb #

    The last author I heard read his own work was David Sedaris. Of course, he was painfully funny, but what surprised me by his reading was how sensitive, nuanced and insightful he was. I think this can be masked by the outrageous humor, his irreverence and the brashness of his written work. The intimacy of his spoken word takes the edge off and helps you understand the layers of his story. Storytelling is powerful and intimate – it becomes a shared experience between you and the writer, even if there are 200 people in the room. Like the written story, it draws you in, but perhaps to a greater degree because of the pacing, the pauses, the rise and fall of someone’s voice, their tenor. There is collusion with a story teller and that’s what so lovely. Being swept away by a story is the appeal and the first time I remember feeling transported was listening to Peter and the Wolf, with the musical composition by Sergei Prokofiev. I was laying down with my dad, underneath an old wooden turntable, arms crossed underneath our heads, eyes closed. Yet I felt I was with Peter – hunting, marching, in turns courageous and cowardly, surrounded by an odd assortment of animals, aware of the weight of the rifle and the smell of the woods. As far as I was concerned, it was just Peter and I. And the wolf. The hair on my little 4 year old arms stood on end. It’s not much different for me today. Your questions are a great reminder of the rich history of story telling and how good it feels to lean in for a good tale when you have the pulse of the story teller right there with you.

    March 12, 2010
    • Wow, a great story. Thanks for sharing.Do you listen to audiobooks today? I don’t really, but last night made me rethink that. Perhaps we should retry that as one of our monthly activities. Thoughts (from everybody?)

      March 13, 2010
  2. nancy #

    yes. booksnob: is that what you meant when you said, “if you agree, post.”? i agree. wholeheartedly. so transporting. new yorker festival in nyc in october is a great great place to find this too…

    March 12, 2010
    • Julie Goodrich #

      Nancy, what’s the new yorker festival all about?

      March 13, 2010
    • Agree, disagree, just join in! I have decided: I will also be going to NY festival this fall.How else are we going to learn what we want in an annual BookSnob event????

      March 13, 2010
  3. Julie Goodrich #

    Love to listen to reading out loud! I am my 9-year-old’s biggest fan. Her intonation and intensity both amaze me and crack me up! Another good podcast is NPR’s selected shorts.

    March 13, 2010
    • Thanks Julie! I’ve added the shorts to my iTunes.

      March 13, 2010
  4. I heard Augusten Burroughs read from his latest book when I was in NYC in early Nov. at Barnes & Noble in Union Square. There is really nothing like this. That’s why bookstores are so important.

    March 13, 2010
    • Oh, he would be fascinating to see. I’m curious if readers have anyone *besides* bookstores that do these kind of readings. We have an arts and lecture series in SF that’s good, but it lacks the small group atmosphere you get at bookstores. I agree!

      March 13, 2010
  5. Husband and I listen to audiobooks on long car trips, but in general I am not a fan. I find my attention drifting off when listening to an audiobook unless I am doing it uninterruptedly – and if I have the chance to do it uninterruptedly, I’d rather be reading. I’m old-fashioned that way.

    But you do make a good point about the potential power of hearing a writer reading his or her own words. (Like @mb, I got so much out of hearing David Sedaris read his work – much more subtlety than I’ve picked up in some of his writing.)

    March 13, 2010
    • You both motivated me to try and get Sedaris tickets here in June.He is reading his new materials.6 shows –> already all sold out.

      March 15, 2010
  6. Jazzie #

    I have SO enjoyed the New Yorker Fiction podcast. It and the PRI Selected Shorts are fabulously good.

    I’m also a fan of books on CD (audible.com member). I just finished Let The Great World Spin. It was brilliant (multiple readers). One of the best books I’ve “read” this year. Thank you for that referral, by the way.

    Long live the spoken word!

    March 15, 2010
    • Different narrators for the Great World must have been awesome–the characters were so different and that must have added to the story. I think I need to give more of these a try!

      March 15, 2010
  7. Abby #

    We listen to children’s audiobooks, Bevery Cleary and the like, as a family. They are a new discovery for long drives. The kids retention is unbelievable and its pure joy to be able to watch their expressions change as they hear the plot unfold. They are second only to my husband’s stories (current favorites are loosely based on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table). There is something about their ability to focus entirely on the audio, without the cues that pictures provide. They pause to ask us the meaning of new words, so the audio books allow us as parents to define the words for our kids. It’s more interactive than you might think. I’m a fan.

    March 15, 2010
    • Yes, the audiobook was rediscovered with our kids as well. Thanks for your post. It is great if I am cooking dinner and they are sitting listening… I haven’t seen a good series where the author themselves are reading their work, have any of you?

      March 15, 2010
  8. jules #

    We are going to an event tonight called Own Your Story–an event for writers and artists to read aloud their personal stories. (The two who founded this conduct writing workshops to that end. . . )

    event info:
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Own-Your-Story/249594149008?ref=nf

    Other than that–my husband and I read out loud to each other all the time. LOVE THAT. And, yes–I do love hearing the original author’s voice. . .

    March 16, 2010

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