The HOLR team sat with Maggie Gyllenhaal after a live reading of Leo Tolstoy’s novel ‘Anna Karenina’, at Toronto’s Union Station. We chatted about her thoughts on the Audible platform, and how storytelling impacts the way we experience the world.
Interview Curated by Caroline Hicks
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HOLR: Do you frequently listen to audiobooks?
Maggie: Not that frequently, but I do find that it’s an intense experience. Especially when I listen on earphones — you have someone else’s voice going right into your ears. I think it makes the books have a slightly different impact. It’s much more intense, which I enjoyed.
HOLR: What do you love most about the audible platform?
Maggie: Well I do think it makes books accessible in a different way. I took all of August off, which I haven’t done in many years, but in that time I read real books and turned pages. The last time I remember reading four books in a month, it was probably in college!
So Audible is definitely the right fit if you don’t have that extra leisure time. You can listen to books in your car, in your community, or you can listen to books walking down the street. It opens up this space and time for books that you might not otherwise have.
HOLR: How important do you believe storytelling is to society?
Maggie: I mean, I am a storyteller. That’s my job. That’s the way I see it. There have been times in my life where I’ve thought, ‘what a weird job I have. What is the point of this? Like why am I weeping in this pretend story or pretending to fall in love with some random person and taking my clothes off with them?’
A friend of mine sent me a quote after she saw The Kindergarten Teacher last year. Anne Carson, a Canadian poet, once said something about tragedy. she said ‘Why do we have tragedy?’ Which is basically a way of asking why we have storytelling. She says we have it because we rage, and it’s a good place to put our rage.
It’s basically like that with stories, actors, books, and theatre. You can practice having the difficult feelings in your own life — while you read, while you watch — and it helps prepare you for dealing with real situations in your own life. With whatever character in whatever movie you’re watching, you can let it sit there for a minute so that you can examine them and then maybe come at your own life with a little more care and thoughtfulness.
Also, I usually say I’m not really interested in books or movies that tell sort of fantasy untruths about the way that we live. I like fantasy. I like stylized stories, but only when they’re rooted in telling something truthful. I particularly like it when they are saying something truthful that is difficult to talk about, or when it’s something that hasn’t been discussed before.
HOLR: Did you personally want to read Anna Karenina or was it kind of given to you?
Maggie: It was so weird, It just came to me. I didn’t suggest it, but it’s one of my favorite books ever. If it had been another book that they had asked me to spend all winter many hours a day reading, I might not have. But I was like “ha, Anna Karenina all winter. I think I will. Yes, thank you”.
HOLR: How did you feel about Anna Karenina’s story?
Maggie: It felt real and truthful to me. Sometimes I read a book where I’m like, “this is pretend, this is a pretend version of life.” Same with movies sometimes. I’m like ‘Hey — that’s not how people make love, that’s not what it looks like when somebody fights.’
Of course I don’t know everything about everyone’s experiences, but I do get bored of characters that don’t depict an accurate representation of life. I do particularly love Anna Karenina because of how truthful it felt to me. Funny enough, there’s a Ferrante novel I recently read called Days of Abandonment, and while I was doing this recording of Karenina, the Ferrante novel often referred back to her!
HOLR: What is another book that inspires you?
Maggie: I’m a big Elena Ferrante fan, I’m adapting one of her books into a movie. I think all of her work is amazing. I also just read Rachel Cusk’s trilogy, which I loved! A book I’ve read throughout my life and love is Another Country by James Baldwin — I love a fine balance in mystery.
Keep up with Maggie and follow her on instagram @mgyllenhaal.
Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as narrated by Maggie is available exclusively at Audible.ca