Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: The New Yorker Fiction Podcasts

On a whim, I started downloading the free New Yorker Fiction Podcasts available from the iTunes store. I was skeptical at first because my impressions of New Yorker fiction have always been somewhat negative; my impression was that they were always too impressed with themselves or too urban (read: about NYC) to consistently appeal to someone living outside of the big apple. And there are certainly some stories like this here: James McCourt’s depiction of a cinematic femme fatale in “Avenged” was to my eye overwritten and boring. But I have to eat some crow here: I was completely mistaken. Most of the stories are not only really entertaining, but cover a wide range of fiction: you can hear stories from such notables as Jamaica Kincaid, Denis Johnson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Monroe, James Salter, Roberto BolaƱo, and Donald Bartheleme. I’ve also been introduced to some writers that I had never heard of before: two of Stephanie Vaughn’s excellent tales about a military family stationed in Fort Niagara and - my favorite one so far - Stewart Dybek's hypnotic Russian-doll of a story called "Paper Lantern."

The podcasts are hosted by the fiction editor of the New Yorker, Deborah Treisman, who sets the scene by introducing and interviewing  the narrator for a few minutes before (s)he reads any story of their choosing from The New Yorker archives. After the presentation then the two of them discuss and analyze the story. For non-professional narrators, the stories are almost always engaging, and their insights into the stories both thoughtful and enlightening. My favorite reader so far is either Salman Rushdie’s pitch-perfect take on Donald Barthelme’s “Consider the Bodyguard,” a difficult tale composed entirely of questions, or Orhan Pamuk’s rich Slavic baritone narration of Vladimir Nabokov’s “My Russian Education.” Some of the parings don't seem to match at first, like Allegra Goodman's bubbly voice reading the very-male narration of John Updike's "A&P" or Anne Enright's thick Irish brogue presenting  John Cheever's very American "The Swimmer," but in both cases the narrator won me over in the end. I'm not sure why this is - it might be that since the narrators are all authors themselves, their love of the words carries over into the recording. All I know is that I've been really enjoying them and plan on checking out the entire series. Next up: David Means reading Raymond Carver's "Chef's House."

Related Posts:
Running with Podcasts
Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

1 comment:

  1. Chef's House is a good story, and its well read. It doesn't have the forward energy of The Swimmer or Consider the Bodyguard. I'd recommend it for a mellow run when you want to fall into an easy pace.