Posts Tagged ‘story’

Like most people, I love a good story. From books to movies to my dad’s well-worn family tales (most of which I’ve heard dozens of times by now), from songs to poetry to blog posts, I spend a lot of my days steeped in story. I am constantly adding to the narrative of my own story (isn’t that what blogging is for?), trying to make sense of my life so far, trying to figure out how and why I got to where I am.

Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal seeks to explain why, and how, humans are wired for story. He takes readers on a quick tour of various disciplines – psychology, neuroscience, sociology, even medicine – as they relate to story, and examines various storytelling media, from novels to films to role-playing games. (He does seem to prefer fiction to nonfiction, though he’s rather dismissive of religious stories since he’s an atheist. And he tends to lionize the novel as the “highest” form of storytelling. I would have liked to see more emphasis on oral storytelling and live theatre, since those are ancient and powerful forms of story-making.)

Gottschall uses plenty of examples to make his point: sometimes he makes up his own stories, sometimes he pulls from history or current events. I appreciate the tidiness of using stories to make points in a book about story, but many of his examples seemed designed to shock rather than inform. I’m not a fan of shock value for its own sake, so his deliberate attempts to elicit strong reactions put me off a bit.

Gottschall has two young daughters, and I loved the scenes featuring their imaginative play. (He says, in the acknowledgments, that “playing with my girls has taught me as much about story as I’ve ever learned in books.”) He shares anecdotes of other children’s play as well, further making the point that story is intrinsic to humankind. From the time we can listen, we listen to stories, and from a young age, we begin acting out stories, making them up, telling them to other people and ourselves. We identify strongly with fictional characters; we look to stories to help us make sense of our families, our cultures, our nations, our religious beliefs. I got a bit tired of hearing his main point over and over, but I agree: story is vital to our identity as humans.

Though Gottschall’s points are sometimes a bit obvious, this book is a fascinating exploration of story and its importance to the human race.

This post is part of the TLC Book Tour on The Storytelling Animal. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. You can view the book trailer or visit Gottschall’s website to learn more.


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