This will be a short review. I don’t have a lot to say about Time Now for the Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange. If you are familiar with the Vinyl Cafe, then you know what the Story Exchange is. If not, then while you might still enjoy this book, it probably won’t have the same resonance for you.
There are some gems of stories in this book. I’ve heard most of them (because I’ve listened to The Vinyl Cafe for that long, and some have been re-broadcast because they are just that good). Reading them, however, is a treat. I do enjoy Stuart McLean’s voice and his storytelling habits; however, some of these stories shine simply through the power of their writers’ words. Not all of these stories are equally funny or touching; a few seem merely silly or elicit a bit of a shrug from me. But there are more than enough in here to make the book worth reading. Plus, the stories really are short. Reading this in little spurts, one or two stories at a time, is very easy.
In fact, I’d say breaking up your reading of this book isn’t just easy but almost required. I slammed this back over two baseball games (I read between innings and during pitching changes, of which we have lots in this college league). You try paying attention to a baseball game when you’re holding back tears! Not all of these stories are heartbreakers, but there are enough in here to routinely make my eyes water. That includes my all time favourite story exchange story (and there are many I’m overly fond of), titled here “A Proposal of Hope” from Michael Gallagher.
I’ve previously mentioned how I would listen to the Vinyl Cafe when walking through the country market while I lived in England. One day, this very story was featured. I listened while picking out fresh fruits and veg for my week … and then I started crying. In the middle of the Bury St Edmunds marketplace. Because seriously. I’m not an overly-sentimental or soppy person, although I do cry at the end of a fair number of romantic movies (or the series finale of Chuck). Nevertheless, of all the stories that made me tear up in this collection, “A Proposal of Hope” is the one that sucker punches you. It’s the happy ending, I think, that twist that makes you realize good things do occasionally happen.
This is, of course, what the Story Exchange is all about. If Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe are a celebration of the best qualities of Canadian culture, from storytelling to music to the history of our country, then the Story Exchange is a celebration of the stories within all of us. We may not all be writers; we may not all have the talent, time, or inclination to record our words. But all of us have stories within, experiences worth sharing. McLean offers an outlet for that, a wonderful outlet, and this book collects some of those worthy tales. In this digital age there is much talk of “curating content”. Well, this is curated content at its very best.
While I don’t want to give the impression that every single one of these stories is uplifting or positive, that is the general tone I get from this collection. The few stories that have a sense of wistfulness or regret are worthy and interesting. And, in general, there is much to be said for books that make us meditate on the darker parts of life. Overall, however, this is a nice way to balance out those books. Time Now for the Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange is a repository of bright moments in the lives of Vinyl Cafe listeners all over Canada and the States. It’s just a really nice book to read.