The Moth: This Is A True Story edited by Catherine Burns – Book review

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ISBN 978-1846689895, Price £12.99, Publisher Serpent’s Tail

The thing with Neil

Neil Gaiman is like my mum. Both tend to be unavoidable. Let me explain: I am fairly new to Twitter and once I had created my account, I started to add authors, publishers and the like. When I open Twitter I see at least three tweets by Neil himself. I go on Facebook and see he shares status updates from his wife. At home, I can pick up his books and comics, at work people buy his writings. While I genuinely like his work of fiction, I have found that his recent omnipresence has a negative impact on my relationship to him. It all leads to a feeling of “Please, not you again!”.

When The Moth: This Is A True Story arrived in the bookshop and I saw that Neil Gaiman had written the foreword, I decided to give it a miss.  But the thing is, I can’t escape good marketing and the Guardian had this storytelling special where they published some stories from The Moth named:

  • How I accidentally shot and killed my best friend
  • A Mormon’s guide to dating
  • ‘I looked at my birth certificate. That was not my mother’s name.’
  • How I told my brother that I was now a woman …at my father’s funeral
  • ‘For the first time in my life, I found myself consumed by stage fright’
  • Why I am scared of telling stories…and why I love The Moth

And as you can see from the picture above, the whole thing did the trick. I just followed an impulse that told me I needed to buy the book. Why? I guess, because curiosity motivates the Kät.

What is The Moth?

The Moth is easily explained: it is a storytelling event where true stories are told to a live audience. Founded by George Dawes Green, The Moth intends to recreate the feeling of the warm summer evenings he had spent with friends on a porch in New York, telling stories to each other. The name of the event derives from the moths that were attracted to the light when he and his friends sat outside. So far, so idyllic. The event quickly became popular, moving to bigger venues and spreading to different cities. London’s first Moth event will be held on the 28th of August this year and guess who will be hosting the evening? Yes, indeed, Neil himself. The event is sold out which speaks for its popularity or  successful marketing or at least the curiosity it has sparked in some of us.

But is it any good?

Most stories in this book are between six and eight pages long. Seldom is a story longer. At the centre of each story is the storyteller, the unavoidable I. All I’s in the book have great stories to tell, that goes without question. They come from diverse backgrounds and it goes to show that every single one of us has the potential to tell a good story.

I loved to read about the exorcism of depression, in fact I was telling everyone that I worked with how funny this little story was, trying to recap it in each tiny step. I was in tears over Adam Gopnik’s use of LOL, tears of joy mind you.  You will find accounts from astronauts, a doctor who cures Mother Theresa, the story about an African American woman that works as a carer for a Klansman and the account of a professional poker player gaining her confidence in an big-stakes international match to name but a few. All stories have different themes that are life affirming, challenging and often have a confessional character.

As with all collections, it goes without saying that some of the stories interested me more than others. If you read too many of them in a row, you might think that the stories are just evidencing the ‘coolness’ of the authors and are a little bit too self-indulgent. Only a few of the stories deal with failure, failure doesn’t seem like a big option.

It is worth keeping in mind that these stories are meant to be told live, some of the stories clearly lose drive on the page. If you want to compare how the written and oral versions differ from each other, it is worth searching the actual footage of the story on YouTube. You might be lucky and able to find it. There are a few on there.

Final verdict – The Moth a treasure trove

I would recommend reading the book in small portions. You can easily dip in and out, it’s excellent for commutes and in-between waits as the text in front of you doesn’t require too much attention, but is still enjoyable to read. As mentioned before, each story is short so that you don’t need to drag yourself through the text when you don’t like a particular story. Another positive is that it’s quite an inspirational read. My synapses made leaps of joy and I promised myself to take some more notes during the reading sessions. As someone who is interested in writing, I think it is a treasure trove when it comes to weird little characteristics and side stories that could enrich my own writing.  Which just evidences the well known fact again, that life tells the best stories.