The Moth has flown into a new format: Print. The storytelling series’ first book, “All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown,” collects almost 50 tales of growing up, struggling with success and finding one’s own identity.
The Moth’s artistic director, Catherine Burns, edited the book, which includes a diverse range of stories from familiar names like Tig Notaro and Meg Wolitzer, as well as plenty of storytelling civilians.
How do you capture the power of spoken word in roughly 300 pages? After considering putting a book together for years, Burns’ literary agent suggested transcribing the audio of previously recorded storytellings, rather than having the storytellers write their stories down.
“A big part of what makes The Moth special is that the stories aren’t written down and memorized, and people aren’t allowed notes onstage — it’s a paper free environment,” Burns said. “The hope was that the process would preserve the voice.”
The range of voices eventually included in the book — young people, senior citizens, city dwellers, rural folks — and “stories that involve dramatic events and ones that are more every man/every woman,” as Burns explained, was narrowed down from a selection of 400 stories, all arranged to enhance each other in the placement of the book.
“We tried to order the stories in a way that let them complement each other,” Burns said. “We made sure all the funny ones weren’t clumped together, or all the serious ones. We wanted the book to feel textured — with each story, you never know what you’re going to get!”
At the end of each story is an author bio and note on when and where this story was originally told, though Burns expects the experience of reading these same stories on paper to resonate differently.
“There’s an intimacy to reading a book. You are literally holding the story in your hands, and you hear their voice in your head as you read,” she said. “And unlike at a live performance, you can re-read a paragraph, or go back to the beginning to check on something you might have missed.
“Even if you’ve heard some of these stories live, you connect with them in a new way when you read them.”
Though that natural tendency for some may be to read the stories out loud, Burns said she didn’t initially see the project that way, though has heard of friends and couples reading the Moth stories to each other. “I had a friend whose dad was suffering from dementia, and her mom and dad read a story to each other every night as a way to trying to help her dad stay connected to the world,” Burns said. “I was so moved by that.”
Those who are inspired to tell their own stories after, as Burns puts it, finding “a new depth of meaning in the words,” are encouraged to pitch their own stories at themoth.org, from which many of the stories in this book were discovered. Did your aunt used to live in Paris? Record two minutes of the story and Moth fame may soon be yours. Or, stick to reading the book on the subway.
“All These Wonders” is available in bookstores now.