The Moth Presents ‘All These Wonders: True Stories About the Unknown’ edited by Catherine Burns, foreward by Neil Gaiman, Crown Archetype, 331 pages, $25.
Storytelling is not automatically literature. If it were, your Uncle Harvey -- who can be a dining room spellbinder at Christmas (or Passover or Thanksgiving) -- would be up there with Tolstoy. Nor, for that matter, is all literature, or even all fiction, storytelling. Ask an innocent bystander to tell the tale of Samuel Beckett’s “The Unnameable” and he’ll have a really big problem.
And that’s why the organization called “The Moth” exists to increasing gratitude in its 20th year. Neil Gaiman says in the introduction to this book that when, in 2007, he asked what The Moth was, he was told it’s “a storytelling thing ... You talk about real life things that happened to you in front of a live audience.” Says Gaiman “the strange thing about Moth stories is that none of the tricks we use to make ourselves loved or respected work in the ways you would imagine they ought to. The practiced jokes and the witty one liners crash and burn up on the Moth stage. Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place more than anything.”
The Moth is a podcast and an award-winning radio show. And here are what the Moth’s directors consider the best true stories related on its stages, put together as a book.
Celebrity is hard to find here and no more a guarantor of interest than anything else. Comedian Tig Notaro begins telling about her stepfather’s dealing with her messy room and goes on through her mother’s death and her search for her childhood belongings. It is moving and largely irrelevant to her fame. So too is John Turturro telling about being his mother’s protector “in a volatile house” and dealing with his mentally ill brother Ralph. Writer Meg Wolitzer tells about she and her friend Martha watching “as Richard Nixon was lifted from the White House like a rotting piece of lawn furniture.” The late Taylor Negron explains what it’s like to be “California Gothic” with a monkey. They’re all arresting tales but no more so than those by everyone else.