Take a hear, it’s in your ear, it’s LeVar Burton Reads: the new podcast in which the former Reading Rainbow host reads a new hand-picked piece of fiction each week. But to say that he “reads” is simplifying things; Burton draws on the storytelling skills that established him as such a beloved childhood figure to perform these tales, complete with multiple voices and impressive sound design for a more immersive sensory experience.
The nearly dozen episodes since the podcast’s premiere in mid-June reveal Burton’s taste for genre; the first pick was Bruce McAllister’s Hugo-nominated space western story “Kin,” and later episodes have sampled Haruki Murakami (“The Second Bakery Attack”), Neil Gaiman (“Chivalry”), and more. This week’s selection is Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie,” with Burton providing a number of voices against the aural backdrop of some very atmospheric music. In fact, he goes all-in on the voices—give “Chivalry” a listen for his convincing exchange between the old Mrs. Whitaker and the Arthurian knight Sir Galahad.
With each episode running somewhere between a half hour and a full hour—perfect for commutes—Burton frames his readings with context as to why he chose the stories and what new perspectives he finds in rereading them aloud. “Are you as devastated as I am?” he asks listeners after finishing “The Paper Menagerie.” Addressing the story’s themes of magic and the real versus the imaginary, he goes on to say, “I love stories that have that element of magic realism. I genuinely believe in the magic that life can sometimes offer—that there is validity to that which we cannot see, that that world is just as real as the tangible world, the one that is so solid to us. And I think it is in large measure my own suspension of disbelief in that other world, that unseen world, that allows for the magic to be present in my own life.”
You get the sense that Burton is emotionally invested in every story as a reader, inviting you to do the same as a listener.
New episodes of LeVar Burton Reads are released every Tuesday.