I was asked in a recent job interview, “What’s a major decision you would like another go on?”
I answered that I wouldn’t change anything. Every choice I’ve made in my life has led me to the point I’m at now. And I like my life now.
“But,” I went on, “If I HAD to choose, I would have studied literature instead of ecology.”
This is a regret I’ve had for a long time, that I missed my chance to dedicate massive amounts of time to consuming and discussing books with smart people who cared.
At 20 I was not self-aware. I didn’t know myself well enough in my college years to study the thing I love most. Reading was like eating to me — it was not optional — and so I was oblivious to the fact that literature was a passion and not a basic necessity.
But, as I said in my interview, my life would have taken a different turn had I chosen the literary path. I would not be married to my husband. I would not have my children. I would not have the dream job I now have.
Thankfully, to stand in for those classes I did not take, there is the New Yorker: Fiction podcast. Hosted by New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, this podcast highlights the best of the best of the short story. Each month an esteemed writer chooses a story from the archives of The New Yorker, reads it aloud, and then discusses it with editor Deborah Triesman. The discussions help sate the cravings of my literature-degree daydream: Triesman and the reading-writer contemplate what makes it a good story, they examine craftsmanship, they attempt to tease out meaning, and –- most importantly for writers -– their dialogues provide insight into the mind and inclinations of a high-quality fiction editor.
I’ve been binging on New Yorker podcast stories lately, re-listening to ones that struck me hard the first time around, and want to share my favorite six with you. I love these not only for the stories themselves, but for the conversations around them as well:
- Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” read by A. M. Homes. Aired Nov 12, 2008.
- Carson McCullers’s “The Jockey,” read by Karen Russell. Aired Jan 14, 2010.
- Raymond Carver’s “Chef’s House,” read by David Means. Aired Oct 15, 2010.
- John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” read by Anne Enright. Aired Feb 17, 2011.
- Nadine Gordimer’s “City Lovers,” read by Tessa Hadley. Aired Sep 05, 2012.
- Elizabeth Taylor’s “The Letter Writers,” read by Paul Theroux. Aired Jan 03, 2014.