The Human Library

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Ada reading

After my mama, the drama queen pulled out the television plug at both ends and chopped up the cord in the driveway for dramatic effect, my siblings and I were left with books and storytelling for entertainment. We had always been avid readers, but in our post-TV years, we became insatiable book consumers. Every week we would stagger out of the library, arms trembling with the weight of a teetering tower of books. Reading was a solitary pleasure, but storytelling was a communal ritual. The best stories could be told over and over again without losing their power to eviscerate us or make us scream with laughter. To this day I find myself in the middle of an experience, already weighing its merits as a worthy story and framing it in my mind to tell to my family the next time we get together.

Lately, the radio has been gratifying my love of storytelling. I’m a hardcore fan of This American Life. Ira Glass is my secret nerd crush. I adore the stories he spins in his dorky, entirely-unsuitable-for-radio-voice. I was hooked on Serial (Season 1) and waited for each episode as anxiously as a junkie trying to score her next hit. To my disappointment, I just couldn’t get into the second season of Serial…but then came the latest This American Life spin-off. S-Town is a dazzling, brilliant work of art. Host Brian Reed’s voice and intonation get increasingly awkward with each episode. I haven’t quite figured out why, but for me – his ragged upspeak somehow adds to the raw, forlorn beauty of the work.

Other radio favorites:

The Moth: the stories and the storytelling can be patchy, but are almost always compelling.

StoryCorps: When I read John Green’s Fault in our Stars I was PISSED. It was so mawkish and emotionally manipulative, yet I couldn’t help weeping as I read it, while simultaneously kicking myself in the ass for weeping. StoryCorps makes me cry every single time I listen to it, but I don’t feel like I’m being played like a cheap violin.

Last week I experienced “The Human Library,” hosted at the University of Virginia. The Human Library is an international initiative that began in Copenhagen in 2000. Today there are Human Library events all over the world during which people can “check out” humans with a story to tell. I went through a catalog of short bios and picked four different people. I was given twenty minute appointment slots for each person and visited them in various rooms on the Lawn where they were stationed for the day. The stories they told were fascinating, brutal, thought-provoking, and deeply personal…At the end of each twenty minute session, I experienced that rare and miraculous feeling of true human connection. In my perfect fantasy world this is how I would spend my days – exchanging stories with my human family.

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