(ed. note – after much time thinking about it and a happy arrangement of circumstances that demanded it, we’re thrilled to bring you our first guest-written post here at RB. Dani’s bio can be found on the new contributor page. An immense thanks to Symphony Space and Selected Shorts – and to this new addition to the crew!)
I should disclose two biases, which are that I love short stories, and I love being read aloud to. This is to say, I am predisposed to love Selected Shorts’ live shows. That, combined with the two really excellent stories they chose to present from the collection, made the whole thing pretty peachy.
The evening was hosted by a dapper Matthew Love, with intro remarks by this year’s BASS editor, Jennifer Egan. Egan told us the the secret of what on earth qualifies something as one of the “Best” American Short Stories of any given year. Along with providing an escape, fresh & vivid language, and surprise for the reader, she stressed her desire that the stories in the collection have some “engagement with our moment” – a really intelligent way to call for relevancy. Egan is also just the loveliest, so it was a pleasure to hear her at the beginning of the night as well as during a brief post-reading Q&A with T.C. Boyle.
Then the stories! Lauren Groff introduced her story, “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” (also she was wearing super cool boots – but this is not a fashion blog), read by the incredibly talented Amy Ryan (most recognizable, probably, as Holly from The Office, but my aside here is that everyone should watch her in Jack Goes Boating, a great indie film with Philip Seymour Hoffman). I’d read and loved this story previously, and not only is the writing gorgeous, when you listen to it aloud you end up kind of feeling like you’re in an eery Floridian fever dream. Which is awesome. Both Amy’s voice and Groff’s writing are hypnotizing. I was mesmerized. (The old couple next to me were sound asleep. You can’t win ‘em all, Groff.)
A precious moment after intermission featured Love pitching Houghton Mifflin Harcourt some ideas for new “Best American” series (Best American Paragraphs, Best American Top Ten Lists, Best American Summaries of Russian Novels by Acquaintances at Dinner Parties, etc).
The ever-distinctive T.C. Boyle’s story “The Night of the Satellite” was superbly read by Dylan Baker. Baker has an audiobook voice if ever I heard one (I think there was a comment made that he actually does record books so that was not a joke, but a fact). In the discussion that followed, Boyle mentioned that finding drama in his stories was a struggle for him early on, having written only comedic work to being with. But this story – due in no small part to Baker’s perfectly deliberate reading – had that Boyle-esque humor-in-the-mundane thing (the audience was giggly throughout), while also making you feel like you’re reading about every disintegrating relationship you’ve ever had. After Baker took a bow, Love said it perfectly: “He really took care of that story!”
The only downside to the evening was that the two stories were long, so the Boyle/Egan discussion at the end lasted less than 10 minutes (the whole thing clocked in at nearly 2.5 hrs by my count). But, though I am a firm believer in the 90 minute event, I honestly can’t say I minded sitting in a warm theater being lulled into a literary coma on a cold November night.