Bringing stories to life at Short Story Reading Club
Stories take time. Whether bingeing the newest season of your favorite TV show, listening to an audiobook or engrossed in the pages of a novel, stories are experienced in hours, days, months and occasionally years. But short stories are different. Short stories, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, take us around the universe or break our hearts with only a few thousand words. Above all, short stories can and should be read in a single sitting, which is exactly what we do at Anythink Wright Farms’ Short Story Reading Club.
Since the fall of 2016, the Short Story Reading Club has met on the last Wednesday of the month at Anythink Wright Farms to read and discuss short stories. Typically, we’ll read a couple of short stories, ranging from classics by Kurt Vonnegut and Arthur C. Clarke to contemporary pieces by authors like Karen Russell and Kelly Link. The experience is a communal one, as volunteers take turns reading aloud. It’s this – the act of speaking and listening to the words of a story – that makes Short Story Reading Club so singular. Rather than just reading quietly to ourselves, we as a group bring the story to life.
Reading aloud also allows us to catch nuances and humor that might not have been so apparent if we were reading to ourselves. This was certainly the case last October when we read Ray Bradbury’s “The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl,” a story about a man trying to literally cover his tracks after a murder. The story is, on one level, a tribute to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” (which we also read that night), but unlike Poe, Bradbury enlivens the morbidity with wry, absurdist humor that was an absolute delight to hear read aloud.
Once we’ve finished reading a story aloud, we always take some time to discuss our reactions. Sometimes we’ll focus exclusively on the story at hand, pondering what makes it tick. After we read Truman Capote’s wistful, heartbreaking “A Christmas Memory,” we talked about how the story was able to evoke the visceral sense memories of baking at Christmas. Other times, we’ll try to figure out what a story means, as was the case when we read Karen Russell’s “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” a surreal and hilarious tale that depicts departed presidents like John Adams and Rutherford B. Hayes reincarnated as horses on a ranch that may or may not be Purgatory.
And, of course, the joy of any book club is being exposed to new stories, authors and genres. After finishing “The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl,” I was able to recommend a collection of Ray Bradbury stories called The Illustrated Man to one of our group members who’d never read anything else from him. And I learn things, too. During another meeting, after we’d finished Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star,” I was encouraged to read the author’s classic Childhood’s End. It’s this mutual exchange of stories, ideas and recommendations that makes Short Story Reading Club (and Anythink libraries, in general) such a fun, rewarding place to spend an evening.
New members are always welcome, and no advance reading is ever required, so if you’re interested attending one of Short Story Reading Club’s meetings, swing on by Anythink Wright Farms on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6:00 p.m. and join us! We’ll be reading a pair of fantastic and fantastical tales by Neil Gaiman.