Our Reading Lives

How LeVar Burton Made Me Love Short Stories Again

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LeVar Burton Reads

If there is anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that nothing stays the same. Change is constant. But most importantly for me, tastes change.

For me this was evident with short stories. As a teenager and early adult years, I loved short stories. Rick Moody astonished me with his collection Demonology: Stories; “Mansion on the Hill” is still one of my favorite short stories.

But then, as the years went on, I started having problems with short story collections. I would read a story or two and then put the book down permanently. This happened first with lesser-known short story writers. Clearly, they weren’t well known for a reason.

It kept happening. Even with established and well beloved writers. I couldn’t get through any short story collections by Neil Gaiman. It wasn’t his writing—I loved Neverwhere but I couldn’t get past a story or two in his collections. Time passed and a bookseller recommended Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. Same thing happened. I didn’t like her stories.

So I concluded that clearly, I didn’t like short stories as a format. I wanted something more substantive like a novel. Or nonfiction. Short stories weren’t for me.

Then LeVar Burton released his podcast LeVar Burton Reads. Now, I don’t have a lot of memories of Reading Rainbow. I believe I watched it but I don’t recall having strong feelings one way or the other. I did remember Star Trek: Next Generation, but as a kid, I didn’t like the show. This was clearly in reaction to my parents who did. (Star Wars was my preference). But I did grow into TNG as time went on.

I was intrigued by the idea of LeVar Burton reading his favorite short stories. So I dug in.

Holy cow, I was captivated. He has the perfect reading voice, measured and  engaging. It made me want to hear more. I didn’t love the first story “Kin” by Bruce McAllister but it was interesting enough for me to want to continue.

And so I did.

What It Means When a Man Falls from the SkyThen he read Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky.” This was more than just his voice. This was legitimately my cup of tea. Speculative fiction about a world where humanity’s problems could be solved by a math equation. A world where mathematicians are grief counselors. Wow. So I ran out and read the rest of Arimah’s short stories.  This was good.

Next, Burton read “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. This short story was about the love of a mother whose son is desperately trying to run away from his immigrant heritage but with a magical bent. Beautiful and heartbreaking. I ran out and read the rest of Ken Liu’s short stories in the collection.

I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t like short stories. Lesley Nneka Arimah and Ken Liu’s works suggested otherwise. I was just very picky about what I liked. LeVar Burton just had the magical touch to direct me to the right places.

The Paper MenagerieOf course, I don’t love everything he reads. (And he even reads a short story by Neil Gaiman). But these selections reaffirmed that I do like short stories.

It doesn’t hurt that I love LeVar Burton and his magical voice.

Check out his podcast here.

If you want to check out top Reading Rainbow episodes, check it out here.