When a Book Can Change You Forever

In the acknowledgements for the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods, Neil Gaiman mentions “the inimitable Harlan Ellison, whose collective Deathbird Stories burned itself into the back of my head when I was still of an age where a book could change me forever” (my emphasis).

At Loscon this year, Sherwood Smith, Deborah, and I will be doing an “unpanel” inviting participants to share their experience of such a book or story with others. This won’t be your usual “we talk, you listen” format, but a structured “deep listening” exercise designed to let everyone be heard. We’ll start with an introduction by Deborah, then Sherwood will talk about deep reading and how it relates to deep listening, and then I’ll introduce the format.

Here’s the handout we’ll have for people who show up late, which explains the process.

Deep Reading, Deep Listening

Deborah J. Ross, Sherwood Smith, Dave Trowbridge

Do you remember the book or story in which you first encountered the sense of wonder? When, as Neil Gaiman puts it, you were at that age where a book can change you forever? What did it feel like? How did it change you? Join us in a structured, “deep-listening” exercise where participants (both fans and pros) share their experiences—in an atmosphere of respectful listening—about a work of SF&F that made a difference to them.

Welcome! If you’re joining our “listening panel” late, here’s how it works.

Each of us gets to briefly share their encounter with a life-changing book or story, hopefully in genre fiction.

The facilitators will respectfully keep things moving—or slow things down if they start moving too fast.

We’re sitting as close to a circle as we can get. We’ve left space open for you; one of the three facilitators will show you where to sit.

Participants are speaking in order of their position in the circle, going widdershins. (The process started with the facilitators.) You may pass if you wish, and speak in order after the circle has completed once.

Be “tender” about how long you speak. It’s important that everyone get chance to be listened to.

The point of the exercise is not what you will say but what you will hear. Truly listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another, being truly heard is regrettably rare.

Try not to think about what you will say when your turn comes, or even about what you’re hearing. Just listen to what each speaker says. Believe it or not, if you do this, you’ll know what to say when your turn comes.

Please don’t speak or comment while another is sharing. Please don’t use your speaking opportunity to comment on or argue with what someone else has said. We want to hear your story.

We’re leaving a space between shares to let each participant’s experience echo among us. We suggest counting silently up to ten before your turn, but take longer if you wish or sense that it’s needed. You may find the silence in-between the richest part of the panel.


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