How often do you actually listen to stories anymore? Probably not as much as you did before you could read on your own. If you’re like me, you go to bookstore readings as often as you can, though except for poetry and very short stories, often the author reads a portion of a longer work, which isn’t quite the same as hearing a whole piece from beginning to end.
This afternoon I went to the Seattle Public Library’s Thrilling Tales (it’s a year-round thing, but it’s especially fun in October, when the fiction librarian picks the creepiest stories). Today’s reading featured a story by the amazing Alison Lurie called “The Highboy,” which until today I hadn’t yet read (or heard). It’s now officially one of my favorite stories ever: it’s creepy, hilarious, beautifully written. And I think that while I’d have loved reading it myself, I was more taken by hearing it read aloud.
As a writer, one of the many things I love about this story is the way Lurie handles time: she propels the story from afternoon to evening, from one season to another with seamless grace (always a challenge for me in my own work). I’m not sure how much this would have stood out to me had I been reading it myself, rather than sitting there anticipating the next line. And hearing this piece aloud clarified something about a piece of my own that I’m trying to find a title for: Use a simple title for a piece in which you’re asking readers to suspend disbelief. While in another story it might seem ordinary, for a story like this one, it’s absolutely perfect.
By the way, I’m not even going to give you a hint as to what the story’s about, and will instead insist that you go out and find it. It’s so good.
So whether you’re in reading-for-pleasure mode, or reading-as-writer mode, try listening instead. The Seattle Public Library creates podcasts of many of its visiting authors — and check out the New Yorker’s podcasts, where you can listen to Joyce Carol Oates read Eudora Welty, or T.C. Boyle read Tobias Wolff, and much more.
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