Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Benjamin Chambers writes:

2008 was the first full year of The New Yorker fiction podcast, and I gotta say, it was a very fine year. Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman’s unhurried confidence sets a nice tone, and the authors nearly always choose interesting work and read it well (not the way actors would, but sensitively nonetheless). They also tend to have interesting things to say about the work, or their reasons for choosing it, that help you see it in new ways. It’s sort of like sitting in on the bull session in the bar after a graduate writing workshop.

Anyway, here are my picks for the best of the bunch:

Best at Getting Me Interested in a Classic Author I’d Never Read: E. L. Doctorow reading and discussing John O’Hara’s 1943 story “Graven Image,” which had the singular effect of making me want to read more O’Hara, whose Appointment in Samarra once failed to entice.

Best Reading of a Classic Short Story First Published in 1948: I can’t decide. I’m sorry; I know you look to Emdashes for firm opinions, but I just can’t do it. It’s a toss-up between Mary Gaitskill tackling Nabokov’s terse story “Symbols and Signs,” and A. M. Homes narrating Shirley Jackson’s creepy chestnut, “The Lottery” (which you can see on film here). What are the odds that two authors featured on the podcast in the same year would both choose stories from 1948? Who cares? Just don’t make me choose.

Best Story by a Contemporary Writer I’d Never Heard of: Stephanie Vaughn’s “Dog Heaven,” read exceedingly well by Tobias Wolff. The upshot? I’ve just picked up a collection of Vaughn’s stories from the library.

Most Interesting Commentary on a Story I Wasn’t Crazy About: Once again, a toss-up. I enjoyed hearing Roddy Doyle talk in his warm Irish accent about having TNY writer Maeve Brennan live with his family in the 1970s; but I also enjoyed hearing Jeffrey Eugenides, after reading Harold Brodkey’s 1994 “Spring Fugue,” chat with Treisman about Brodkey’s lack of appeal to some readers, in spite of his obvious talent.

Podcast I Liked Best In Spite of Myself: T. Coragahessan Boyle reading Tobias Wolff’s 1995 story “Bullet in the Brain.” I admire Wolff’s stories, but this one isn’t his strongest. Nonetheless, it reads well aloud, and it was a smart choice by Boyle, whose discussion of the piece is quite winning, though I’m surprised that he never once mentions the story’s obvious model, Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge.”

Best Fiction Podcast of the Year: I’ve already talked my fool head off in several posts about how much I liked Louise Erdrich’s reading of Lorrie Moore’s 1993 story “Dance in America.” Surely, ‘nuff said. But if you listen to only one fiction podcast from last year…

For Completists: Here’s the entire list of TNY podcasts, going back to 2007. (There’s some good’uns from 2007, too.)

If You’re Eager for More: Go right head and check out the January 2009 podcast, in which Thomas McGuane reads Jame Salter’s kick-ass 2002 story “Last Night.” Not to be missed. Just be sure you’re ready for a fright.


I must recommend Paul Theroux’s reading of Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Gospel According to Mark,” as well as Richard Ford’s reading of John Cheever’s “Reunion.”

@ Kaelan - absolutely! I agree with you on both counts. And there are other podcasts from 2007 that are also very good … my only regret is that they do these just once a month.

Great list, Benjamin! I dug Erdrich reading Moore, too. “Dance in America”—one of Moore’s many great stories. I love her. And she’s a Madisonian!

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