Great Radio Episode Hints at Great Books

Alison Morris -- April 24th, 2009

We are in the midst of events insanity at the store, once again, so I’ve been putting in looooong hours, making my available "guest blogging time" scant, to say the least. BUT in between preparations for and execution of events with folks like Mary Ann Hoberman, Chris Bradford, Anna Alter, T.A. Barron, Harry Bliss, Rick Riordan and Megan McDonald (to name just a few of the talented people who have been at our store this week or who’ll be coming in the next few), I’ve been jotting down note after note about things I’d like to recommend to you or tell you about or simply "share." What follows is ONE. More will be forthcoming after some down time, which I’m hoping to find this weekend!

My tidbit for today is a plug for a great episode of my favorite radio show, This American Life."While TRYING to wait patiently for my turn with the Minute Man Library system’s ONLY copy of the audiobook edition of Under the Jolly Roger by L.A. Meyer (in a future post I will detail my obsession with this series on audio), I have been catching up on T.A.L. via podcast. The "Didn’t Ask to Be Born" episode that aired on March 20th of this year originally aired seven years prior (on March 29, 2002), but that doesn’t make it any less powerful now, and the timing is perfect for the world of publishing.

Following a theme that’s best summed up as "every parent’s worst nightmare," the first half of this episode features interviews with journalist/mother and now author Debra Gwartney and her two daughters, all of whom recount what happened before and after the girls (then ages 13 and 15) ran away from home. Their story is frightening, fascinating and heartbreaking in ways you might not expect. Reviews of Debra’s new book telling this story, Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, suggest it might very well be the same, and more. (They certainly make ME want to read it!) Here’s an excerpt from Booklist‘s starred review:

Gwartney deserves high praise for her clear and lacerating prose, her refusal to assign blame or make excuses, and the stunning candor with which she offers telling glimpses into her own, and her daughters’ father’s, youthful recklessness and parental flounderings. Everyone concerned about self-destructive teens, and every survivor of her or his own wild times, will find Gwartney’s searing chronicle of her resilient family’s runaway years deeply affecting.

As if the first isn’t moving enough, the second half of "Didn’t Ask to Be Born" features Brent Runyon reading an excerpt from his harrowing and beautiful memoir The Burn Journals. Listen to Brent tell the story of the day in eighth grade when he set himself on fire, then go hug your favorite teenager. THEN go buy them a copy of The Burn Journals. While you’re at it, you might also want to take a look at Brent’s new novel Surface Tension: A Novel in Four Summers. As is the case with Debra’s book, I haven’t yet read this one myself, but it is also racking up starred reviews from trusted sources like Kirkus, who said, "With sensitivity and candor, Runyon reveals how life changes us all and how these unavoidable changes can be full of both turmoil and wonder."

I love that an hour-long program on the radio can be full of these things too. I HIGHLY recommend devoting an hour to this episode, which you can listen to for free on the This American Life website. Just click on the little orange picture of a speaker beside the words "Full episode" on the left side of the screen and you’ll be on your way. (Be sure to come back and let me know what you thought of it!)

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