|Crystalline Short Stories from the UK|
After listening to this December 2010 Guardian Books podcast of 12 contemporary authors reading their favorite short stories, I've come to the conclusion that the schools of the United Kingdom and Ireland must teach elocution as well as they teach Oscar-acceptance speechwriting, because the authors' enunciation and pacing is kilometers beyond your average mumbler. Nor are these writers afraid to "do" different voices for different characters, which isn't to everyone's taste, but I liked it. Whatever the formation of these writer/audio performers, they each do justice to their favorite story, regardless of contrasts in accent or gender, and I recommend almost all of them.*
Lots of Story, Little Talk
The format of the Guardian short stories podcast is similar to that longstanding paragon, the New Yorker: Fiction podcast, though the authors in the Guardian series are not limited to choosing stories that have appeared in The Guardian. The post-story discussions between the readers and Guardian contributor Lisa Allardice last only a few minutes, and I wished they had been longer (for the authors' written impressions, see this roundup page on the stories in Guardian Books). The total running time of the episodes ranges from a brisk 11 minutes (Anne Enright reading and discussing Raymond Carver's "Fat") to 43 ruminative minutes (Rose Tremain reading and discussing Yiyun Li's "Extra"). That gives you some idea of the diversity of the chosen favorites; a couple of the stories were delightfully unknown to me.
How to Listen
The Guardian short stories podcast home page has the complete list of audio (be sure to click on the tiny "Next" at the bottom of the list to advance to the second page of episodes). You can also download the whole lot from the iTunes Guardian short stories page for transferring to your iPod, but you should check out the online pages anyway, just to see the fetching thumbnail photos of authors and readers.
*Not to be coy about the one that didn't do it for me: Anton Chekhov's "The Beauties," the short story which Philip Pullman reads, struck me as more stalkerish than aesthetic, but maybe I'm guilty of applying a 21st century sensibility to a 19th century story.