Selected Shorts: The Sun and the Moon

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A moon voyage with Radiolab, and a trip to Venus with Ray Bradbury are what we offer on this fantastical program.

We invited Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich from the story-telling science show Radiolab (produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR) to curate an evening of stories with us, and we knew their choices would be strange and wonderful, just like their show. 

This program features one of their picks (we’ll broadcast a special second show near Memorial Day), Italo Calvino’s “The Distance of the Moon.”  As Jad and Robert say in their introduction to the reading, they like stories “Where you come to the end, and you say ‘Wow, what happened then? or ‘What does that mean?’,” stories that “park you in an uncertain place.”  In this case, that “place” is both the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and the distance between human beings.

“The Distance of the Moon” is from Calvino’s celebrated collection Cosmicomics.  Each story deals with a scientific “fact” (the book was published in 1965, so some are now discredited) and spins from it an entrancing fantasy.  His subjects range from the nature of matter, to the existence of color, to the fate of evolution itself.  

As the title suggests, “The Distance of the Moon” draws on a theory that the moon used to be closer to the Earth, and then slowly began to pull away (at the rate of 4 billion years worth of finger nail growth, Jad Abumrad points out.)   In this halcyon period, Calvino imagines, moon “fishermen” would land to collect Moon-milk, and his story involves a strange cast of characters, including “old Qfwfq”, a recurring character, a Captain Vhd Vhd and his voluptuous wife, Qfwfq’s deaf cousin, who has a special connection to the Moon, and a little girl called Xlthlx.

WHAT’S THAT NAME? As guest host BD Wong comments, some stories can be “really challenging” to read, especially when the characters given names have no vowels.  Come on, give it your best shot.  Write and tell us how you think these names (which may have something to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics) should be pronounced.

Or, if you’re feeling brave, click on the Soundcloud link and you can record your own version and see how Liev Schreiber measures up.

Send me your sounds

 And, you get two chances to here Schreiber’s reading.  “The Distance of the Moon” will be feature in a forthcoming Radiolab podcast.   Check their website for details:


Calvino was a Cuban-born writer who grew up in Italy, fought in the Resistance during World War II, and then started his career as the editor of a collection of Italian fairy tales.  This experience may have influenced his own work, which has elements of fable and a kind of playful naïveté, while still dealing with complex subjects.


Calvino’s other works include Invisible Cities (1972), and If on a winter's night a traveler (1979).

The reader is the Tony Award-winning actor Liev Schreiber, whose many stage and film credits include “Glengarry Glen Ross” (Tony Award), “Henry V,” “Macbeth,” “The Sum of all Fears,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Omen,” “Kate and Leopold,” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”  He also wrote and directed the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated.

From the moon, to the sun.  Our second story on this program is by the fantasy writer Ray Bradbury.  Here the author of The Martian Chronicles imagines a colony on Venus, where it has rained implacably for seven years, and the idea of the sun dominates the lives of children who can’t remember it.

“All Summer in a Day” was first published in 1954.  It’s performed here by the musical theatre star Michael Cerveris, whose Broadway credits include the Stephen Sondheim musicals “Assassins” (Tony Award), “Sweeney Todd,” “Road Show,” and “Passion.”  Like one of our other regular leading men, Leonard Nimoy, he has had a featured role on the fantasy television series “Fringe.”

 “The Distance of the Moon,” by Italo Calvino, performed by Liev Schreiber

“All Summer in a Day,” by Ray Bradbury, performed by Michael Cerveris

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

We’re interested in your response to these programs.  Please comment on this site or visit

And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at