March 13, 2009 10:06 AM   Subscribe

A guide to Storyreading. "For over ten years now, various friends and I have been getting together on occasion to read stories aloud to each other. This activity—graced with the unlovely but utilitarian name "story reading"—can be a great deal of fun, but can also be rife with pitfalls of various sorts. This guide is an attempt to help others to run story readings. Note that reading stories is different from—and, generally, much easier than—telling stories; while people do occasionally tell stories at these gatherings (and it usually goes over well), that's not the primary emphasis...The origins of our approach to story readings are lost in the mists of antiquity. The idea may have sprung fully-fledged from a conversation I had with DH about a Delany essay called "On Pure Storytelling"; or it may've been derived from MK's reading The Princess Bride aloud, which in turn may've been inspired by folks at Yale who were doing much the same thing. Whatever the history, it's clear that other groups—notably one in Boston—have been having similar sorts of readings for at least as long as we have."

Storyreading is essentially a bunch of people getting together and reading 8-10 page pieces, usually short stories (but also essays, or chapters from novels or nonfiction books). Want to start a storyreading group? Here are some places to find things to read: An addition to the advice given in the guide: it's nice to keep a wiki or other online list of the things your group has read, so you can go back and find them later. For flavor, some things recently read at my group include:
posted by ocherdraco (19 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

I worked at a summer camp for many years that had a story-reading tradition. It was the expectation that, just after lights-out, the adults would read to the kids in their cabins. THe campers were ages 7 to 14, and we had a nice ragtag library of favorites like The Princess Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and on up. I usually had 12- 14-year-olds, and one of my favorite years, I read them some of Roald Dahl's creepy short stories for adults. Read Poe to the oldest boys' cabin one night: I chose "The Cask of Amontillado," which I love. Read it to great creepy effect; they listened rapty. At the end one kid said. "Wow, that was cool. [beat] [beat]...what was that about?"

Thanks for working up such a great post on reading aloud. It is a good idea for a gathering.
posted by Miko at 10:18 AM on March 13, 2009

Funny. We were doing this in Adams House at Harvard around 1988(89?). I'm sure it started there independently and I refuse to believe it had anything to do with Yale.

Everyone would gather together and socialize and drink for at least an hour or so. Then the "readings" would start. Usually children's books.

A favorite was Dr. Seuss. Something like 'Green Eggs and Ham' worked well, done with a Shakespearean voice. Audience participation was encouraged, either anticipating the reader, making wisecracks, or just adding soulful encouragement.
posted by vacapinta at 10:19 AM on March 13, 2009

One of my Boy Scout scoutmasters, Mark, used to read -- or, even better, recite -- Robert Service poems to us around the campfire. He put a lot into it, and now I remember him mostly for this (and his old Buick, Bessie, with cookie sheets covering the floorboards' holes.)

Heroic stuff, and you never know what it's going to do for your listeners.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:31 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great post ocherdraco, thanks.
posted by storybored at 10:44 AM on March 13, 2009

During a class on clownage, one of the exercises was reading a well known kids story (such as red riding hood) out loud, but with all the different vowels replaced by just one. Done with the right enthusiasm, this can be very funny.

It also learns you to "put a lot in it" (as wenestvedt calls it), to increase the effect.
posted by DreamerFi at 10:44 AM on March 13, 2009

Thanks for the post - this is such a neat idea. It reminds me of going to a dinner party once where we passed out roles and read Shakespeare's Measure for Measure aloud. Just speaking the language out loud, struggling for a natural delivery, was a great way to experience the play.

Although, thinking about it, I imagine part of the enjoyment of storyreading is precisely your performative translation of the prose on the page. So... plays are perhaps a different animal? Fun to be had all around, though, IMHO.
posted by lillygog at 11:10 AM on March 13, 2009

Funny you should mention that, lillygog. The group I do storyreading with has significant overlap with a group I read Shakespeare with. The two things have different vibes: at Storyreading, you don't know who's going to read what, and there's a lot more sitting back and listening. At Shakespeare, it's very participatory, and there aren't the breaks between stories to discuss what's going on (though my group does generally take breaks between acts). I think they speak to the same urges, but they manifest in different ways.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:15 AM on March 13, 2009

I tried doing this last night over the phone with my long-distance bf and had no idea where to start. Thanks for some good suggestions.
posted by Madamina at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2009

Neat post. I just wanted to add another vote for "doing this with plays, especially Shakespeare, is great fun too."
posted by straight at 11:52 AM on March 13, 2009

For many years a group of Melville fans gathered at Mystic Seaport Ct. to read Moby Dick non stop day and night. I don't know whether it's still being done but it's a different take on the story reading idea.
posted by Palmerpoodles at 11:56 AM on March 13, 2009

We used to do this in library school. Good times.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:59 AM on March 13, 2009

Thinking more about this, what appeals to me is the time it gives you to really savor and discuss. Taking the Shakespeare example (the one with which I'm familiar), my first exposure to Shakespeare was being forced to read him. And sure, participate in discussion, but for a grade. These types of groups put reading and storytelling back into the realm of fun, while forcing you to slow down and enjoy the language in ways you might not normally.
posted by lillygog at 12:42 PM on March 13, 2009

My wife and I do this regularly. We found the the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and it's sequels read particularly well out loud, probably owing to the fact that they were originally radio plays. We also thoroughly enjoyed reading Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by Alexander McCall Smith.

I think stories with a humorous bent, and with strange or offbeat characters have worked best for us. Books that are suspenseful, or particularly engaging seem to us to be less enjoyable, as there is always a temptation to read over the orators shoulder, or, if you are the one reading out loud, then to allow your eyes to skip ahead.
posted by JonahBlack at 12:47 PM on March 13, 2009

I'd like to try doing this more, although I would have to limit it to stories I've read before. If it's something new to me, I tend to get impatient with the pace of reading aloud because I want to know what happens and I am a super fast silent reader.

I especially like the idea of doing very familiar stories and encouraging people to participate by snarking or doing interpretive dance or whatever. That sounds like fun.
posted by marginaliana at 1:20 PM on March 13, 2009

Occasionally, I'll read book aloud for my wife a she falls asleep. They're exclusively children's books or books of fairy tales. She loves it and it's a lot of fun for me, especially because a lot of her favorite books from childhood are not books I ever read, so it gave me a chance to read Winnie the Pooh for the first time.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:58 PM on March 13, 2009

my boyfriend and I sometimes do this - it's super fun - one of the best was Naked by David Sedairs - humorous writing becomes so much funnier out loud. A book that also would be good for this is High Spirits by Robertson Davies. It's a collection of ghost stories that he wrote and read out at christmas parties when he was master of Massey College
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:29 PM on March 13, 2009

Brilliant! I once started a reading-out group for Pippi Longstockings. Hilarious and liberating. Recommended to anybody. By the way, silent reading was long developed after writing - it used to be customary to read aloud in order to understand.
posted by yoHighness at 4:30 PM on March 13, 2009

A groups of friends and I did this at UTK in 1988-89. We were inspired by Dead Poet's Society, so (of course) called our little group the same… or "DPS" for short. It was a tremendous amount of fun.

Now-a-days, my daughter and I do it nearly every night. Granted, the content may not be as intellectually stimulating, but it's every bit as much fun.
posted by vertigo25 at 9:45 PM on March 13, 2009

All these links sent me off on an odyssey of short-story hunting last night, and now I have a whole bunch of new stuff in the bookmarks bar. Thanks a bunch!
posted by roombythelake at 10:37 AM on March 14, 2009

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