Completion Date: May 22, 2012
Reason for Reading: TLC Book Tour Stop.
Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?My date for this post was originally the 21st, but sometimes Canada is the middle of nowhere for the mail system. I ended up only getting my book on the 22nd. I am only a little late all things considered. The book is actually rather short.
In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems—just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.
Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal. Did you know that the more absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your behavior? That all children act out the same kinds of stories, whether they grow up in a slum or a suburb? That people who read more fiction are more empathetic?
Of course, our story instinct has a darker side. It makes us vulnerable to conspiracy theories, advertisements, and narratives about ourselves that are more “truthy” than true. National myths can also be terribly dangerous: Hitler’s ambitions were partly fueled by a story.
But as Gottschall shows in this remarkable book, stories can also change the world for the better. Most successful stories are moral—they teach us how to live, whether explicitly or implicitly, and bind us together around common values. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
Have you ever had a terrible time expressing your feelings about a book? I tried to write this review last night, but I didn't like any of my posts. I was drawn to this book because of the subtitle: 'How Stories Make Us Human'. I enjoy stories, as most readers do, and was interested a book that looked at these elements. The thing is, I am not quite sure I got what I was looking for out of this read. Like I said above, the book was short and I think it was too short to really develop things. It makes the book fast-paced and an easy read, but I almost felt like he chose theories and ideas that fit his book, called them fact, and moved on with his book. It was like things were too generalized. And, I am not entirely sure he gets facts across. A lot of the time I felt like this was more a personal look at stories instead of a factual one. Which would have been fine if it was more a memoir than a non-fiction look at a subject.
In the end there were things that really bothered me about this book. I was very disturbed by some of the discussions about gender. He says he is quoting fact, but it is out-dated theories and there are many people that see gender entirely differently, so obviously not fact. He talks about how a preschool/kindergarten teacher did research on the way that the girl and books in her class played. She said that the girls 'played dolls; they pined for their princes; they rarely ran or wrestled or shouted; they often told stories about bunnies and magical pink hippos'. The boys, though, 'sprinted and shouted and happily rioted; they shot the whole room full of imaginary bullet holes and scorched it with bombs'. After I read this part I decided I must have had a very strange childhood. And my friends daughters that have no interest in dolls must be abnormal. And, my friends boys that would happily play with dolls don't exist in the world of research. This whole section just bothered me and the author has two daughters. I could go on about it further, but it is only one section out of the entire book.
There were things I liked about this book, though. He talks about all the scandals surrounding memoirs and how even afterwards people still rush out to buy the next book about someone's struggles and successes believing it to be true. In reference to this he talks about how people don't always set out to lie, but they sometimes remember things differently than they actually happened. I have always found that idea interesting, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book. Then he talks about how fiction and stories will carry on in a world where others are saying the novel is dying. It is always nice to know that other people are positive about the future of the written word.
The bottom line, this was an interesting read. I just didn't feel it was a read for me. As I said there were interesting sections, but overall I felt that I was looking for something that just wasn't there. He mentions himself and his daughters a lot, which may be fine for others, but I found took away from my reading experience because I wasn't expecting something so personal. That being said, reading is a personal thing and it is hard to distance yourself from that. His overall thesis, though, that stories are important and will always be around I entirely agree with.
I suggest visiting these other blogs and getting their take on things before making up your own mind, though:
Tuesday, May 15th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Wednesday, May 16th: The Book Garden
Thursday, May 17th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, May 22nd: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, May 23rd: Peppermint PhD
Monday, May 28th: Book Dilettante
Wednesday, May 30th: Built by Story
Tuesday, June 5th: cakes, tea and dreams
Thursday, June 7th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Saturday, Jun 9th: A Life Sustained
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me participate in this tour and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book.