Saturday, April 21, 2012

Book Review: "The Storytelling Animal"

Jonathan Gottschall's The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) is a sprightly and captivating book on the origin and role of story in human history. Drawing on literature and media studies as well as scientific and psychological research, Gottschall offers a series of relevant anecdotes, case studies and ideas about the reasons and the ways in which story has evolved into a key part of the human experience.

Encompassing everything from fairy tales to music to dreams to televised sporting events to videogames, Gottschall argues, experiencing stories benefits us in a whole host of ways, some of which we're still struggling to comprehend. One of these functions may be, Gottschall argues, "giving us practice with the big dilemmas of human life" (p. 83): he notes that "trouble" is a major theme in all forms of story, and so perhaps experiencing these stories better equips us to deal with trouble when we're faced with it in our own lives.

I found Gottschall's chapters on dreams and on memoir particularly interesting, as well as the final chapter, in which Gottschall muses about the current state of story and its future - which may, he suggests, look rather different in many respects from what we're used to. He offers some final "suggestions" at the end which I found myself easily nodding along to as I read.

I've just scratched the surface of this book; the author packs a whole lot into 200 pages! If you're one of those people, like me, who finds it easy to get "lost in a good book," or periodically realizes that tears are streaming down your face as you listen to a song, or wakes up after a particularly bizarre dream wondering where the heck that came from, give The Storytelling Animal a read.


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