Mission

Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: The Storytelling Animal




The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Jonathan Gottschall
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
hardcover, 24.00
248 pages
a copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours

Why story?

What is it that story does for us? Why have humans evolved with story "hard-wired" into us?

Jonathan Gottschall may not provide a definitive answer to that question, but he does offer a plausible theory, along with a plethora of entertaining narratives and a smattering of scientific research. Gottschall's theory--that story acts as a kind of "flight simulator" for humans--may explain why story is so thoroughly interwoven into human life. But frankly, The Storytelling Animal is filled with entertainment value, and that's mostly how and why I read this book.

For a dedicated bibliophile, what could be more entrancing than a book about story? The Storytelling Animal is not just about the kind of story we find in novels (although Gottschall spends a good amount of time on why people read novels, and how reading novels affects us). Gottschall defines story more broadly: he is also talking about the ongoing stories we tell ourselves about ourselves (we are the heroes of our own stories, and like the children in Lake Woebegone, we are all above average). The Storytelling Animal shows that humans need narrative and are in a sense defined by narrative. Our stories form our religious traditions and influence our behavior, and story can cause a beneficient change of heart (Uncle Tom's Cabin) or inspire war and genocide (Hitler experienced an epiphany while watching a Wagner opera and was inspired to begin a path toward atrocity).

The Storytelling Animal is chock-full of interesting facts wrapped in narrative. If you love stories, you will love this book. If you are a book geek (and if you're reading this you must be) then you will love finding out that the more absorbed we are in a book, the more influenced we will be by that book. You'll love finding out that we are so hungry for meaningful patterns, that a video about geometric shapes becomes a narrative about two men and a woman for most viewers. And if you love reading memoirs, you'll probably be disturbed to find out how malleable and unreliable memory really is. Highly recommended for bibliophiles, book geeks, and lovers of story.


 





15 comments:

nomadreader said...

I don't read much non-fiction, but I really want to read this one. It makes me remember my high school English teacher who tried to explain that we tell stories because we've been told stories and the framework for the ancient things we read eventually inspired how I recount my weekend. The notion still wows me.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

This sounds great, and I love the cover for it. Even people who don't read are so caught up in stories through films, TV shows, song lyrics etc.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I reviewed this one not too long ago. So interesting!

bibliophiliac said...

@nomadreader-when I read non-fiction, I still seek out a strong narrative. I am so much of a fiction reader...but this book was really fun (and a pretty quick read).

bibliophiliac said...

@Sam-you make a good point about story in film, tv, etc. I didn't go into it in the review, but the author discusses all those forms of story, as well as video games, etc.

bibliophiliac said...

@As the Crowe Flies....My copy of this book was so marked up with underlining and asterisks by the time I finished reading!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I love a good non-fiction book in a narrative format. Those are the ones that actually get read by those who may not read much else. I really liked the flight simulator analogy and will probably use that in some of my own research this upcoming year...that along with many of the author's resources he so generously provided :)

bibliophiliac said...

@Peppermint PhD-I loved the little snippets and factoids that I can share with students. And a narrative format is what really engages me in a non-fiction book. I loved the way the author sprinkled stories throughout the text-it really proves his point.

Scriptor Senex said...

Sounds like a must-read!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I LOVE stories - what could possibly be more appealing than this book?!

So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for being on the tour.

Priya Parmar said...

sounds wonderful!

Ryan said...

This goes on the must-read-NOW list.

bibliophiliac said...

@Priya-it is wonderful! How nice to see you here-hope the writing is going well!

bibliophiliac said...

@Heather-this would be a great gift for a reader...

bibliophiliac said...

@ScriptorSenex-I think this one would be just your cup of tea....
@Ryan-I hope you like this book-stop back and let me know if you read it....