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THE MOTH by Catherine Burns

THE MOTH

By Catherine Burns

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4013-1111-7
Publisher: Hyperion

Storytellers from a diverse array of backgrounds present true tales via a New York–based organization broadcasting at themoth.org.

For all its vital cultural roots, storytelling makes a strange bedfellow with the printed page. In this self-congratulatory volume—readers can plow through a preface, a foreword and an introduction before even getting to the first story—stories originally told before live audiences are transcribed and edited to no discernible purpose, considering that they are all available in their original formats on the website. The stories run the gamut from childhood memories to love and marriage to illness, crime, war and family secrets, with several epiphanies thrown in for good measure. Some are quite moving—e.g., rapper Darryl “DMC” McDaniels’ account of how Sarah McLachlan’s music saved him from depression and geneticist Paul Nurse’s discovery that the woman he had thought was his sister was actually his mother. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Her Way” manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking in its evocation of a friendship’s end. Others that should pack a punch, including writer Jillian Lauren’s “The Prince and I,” about her stint as a courtesan to the Sultan of Brunei, fall flat on the page. Therein lies the problem with this anthology: These stories are meant to be experienced in a live venue, where listeners can immerse themselves in each teller’s unique sense of tone and timing. Unlike personal essays, stories require give and take from an audience, which prompts the question: Why bother printing these in an age when people who couldn’t attend the original sessions can easily access live footage online? Other contributors include A.E. Hotchner, Adam Gopnik, Sebastian Junger and Nathan Englander.

Comes across as a vanity project that does little credit to the storytelling process.