Monday, 6 January 2014

Is it my fault?

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is a small miracle. Every month, a writer who has been published in the magazine picks a story from the archive, and reads it out loud. A short discussion between the fiction editor and the writer about themes arising from the story wraps it up.
I love to hear a story read aloud, and good short fiction is available to listen to from more varied sources, but it is the New Yorker version I return to repeatedly. You learn so much about an author from their choice. The New Yorker archive is venerable and extensive, so you won't hear a dud. Then, there is the discussion, which is lucid and intelligent without veering into arid intellectual posturing.
I listened to the latest podcast: Jonathan Safran Foer reading Amos Oz's story, "The King of Norway". You can listen for yourself here. As the story unfolded, I formed opinions about the characters. In the discussion, Jonathan Safran Foer blew them away, making me go through a paradigm shift about what I had just heard, challenging my casual judgements, giving me new insights and shedding richness upon my narrow interpretation.
That's not bad for 30 minutes listening. It made me think about the dangers of throwaway reading (or listening), of not paying sufficient attention. It made me think of a chilling Twitter exchange I saw yesterday, where a reader reeled off some master short story practitioners of whom he was "a bit bored". Perhaps we need to be aware of our limitations as readers; how the quest for novelty and sensation can mask the potential richness of the pages we read. Sometimes, we need to read reflexively and thoughtfully, open to the possibility of being challenged. Sometimes, if we are bored, it is our fault.

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