Last night, at the urging of the always awesome Zane Grant, I went to the release party for abort! #23, a lit zine, at Williamsburg's book thug nation. This issue was SF-themed and several of the authors were present to do readings of the stories--their own or otherwise. I enjoyed all the readings, with the minor exception of the first, by the zine's editor, Jonathan Spies. He was reading someone else's material and kept laughing (surely at an in-joke?), and it was jarring and a little bizarre.
I loved the rest of the readings which included an AC story in a strong Boston accent, some autobio poetry and a looping, wild, alternate-past NYC tale. The last I loved--the reading and the story, while one of my companions enjoyed the reading but didn't care for the story. I read my copy of the zine on the train, and while the story, 'The Slarnax and the Six Train,' by Jessie Gray Singer, was good, it lost the hypnotic quality with which the author's reading imbued it. My favorite story in abort! #23, Laura Waldman's 'The One with the Insides,' worked on the page and in the ear though each was different.
This experience got me thinking about how the experience of a story can change drastically depending on the medium. As you may know, I listen to a ton of audio fiction, all of it coming from the Escape Artists podcasts. They have consistently good stories and rarely have a bum reading. (Though there was this one guy who loved to render female characters in a grating falsetto. But that is another post.) Often I am entranced by stories on there that have problems that would sink them on the page because the readings are done with great skill, drawing out the best in the story. And somehow, somehow, somehow, hearing about dragons or elves or alchemists is fine to listen to, but impossible for me to read. Because I semi-regularly read SF in online venues, I occasionally encounter a story on the casts that I've read before and marvel at how hearing it can transform it, or even more amazing, when the reader seems to channel the sound of the story right out of my brain. However, when Maureen F. McHugh's 'Ancestor Money' (I review the collection here) popped up in my 'tunes, I deleted it right away, not wanting to supplant the drawl of the main characters voice in my head with anyone else's.
I rarely go to readings because so many of them are charged with anxiety. The readers are hoping for sales, or at least attentiveness, and the audience is praying the evening won't require more than two drinks to enjoy. Last night was a relaxed affair and I look forward to checking out more abort! and more book thug nation, where the dollar book rack beats any in town.