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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (edition 2012)

by Jonathan Gottschall

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2131854,782 (3.86)7
Member:eapalmer
Title:The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Authors:Jonathan Gottschall
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2012), Hardcover, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
onathan Gottschall's book explores the ways in which man is a story-telling creature, why this is so and what telling stories does for us, individually and collectively. Chapters cover everything from sacred creation myths to dreams to the inherent unreliability of memoir to propaganda to television commercials to tweets, video games and conspiracy theories.

Gottschall has a light hand and the book is both an entertaining and informative read, although for many of us who work with stories, not a great deal is new and he doesn't go into anything with great depth. This is not to say it's without many wonderful, thoughtful passages and there's a lot of great and thought-provoking information for anyone interested in how stories come to be and how they affect us.

I particularly enjoyed the number of quotes and conclusions from other sources the author pulled together. Here's a couple: "The psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life." of "As William James once wrote, 'There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important.' The same is true of stories." I suspect I'll be using that one with my writing students. Or: "Tolstoy believed that an artist's job is to 'infect' his audience with his own ideas and emotions--'the stronger the infection, the better is the art as art.' Tolstoy was right--the emotions and ideas in fiction are highly contagious and people tend to overestimate their immunity to them."

What a lovely thing for a fiction writer to hear! Snort.

I recommend this book to anyone who is engaged in writing, or who is curious about how stories work and how we use them. ( )
  Laurenbdavis | May 26, 2014 |
This wasn't a particularly good book; more like an overlong magazine article with this single premise: "We humans are constantly marinating ourselves in fiction., and all the while it is shaping us, changing us....fiction is one of the primary sculpting forces of individuals and societies."

Notes that the brain is always spewing forth story as a means of processing experience. Given its persistence and universality, there must be some evolutionary value in storytelling. Contents that it allows us to rehearse options, reinforces moral/cultural values, in a societal glue.

Liked the use of confabulation, ink people..... ( )
  Anraku | Feb 17, 2014 |
Engaging, but I've read enough of these topics (gaming, myth, memory, culture, cognition, child development, history) in other places that none of this felt groundbreaking to me. It's a nicely constructed argument, though, well-written, and a solidly-packaged antidote to the "story is dead" naysayers. ( )
  MelissaZD | Jan 1, 2014 |
Contrary to what might be expected, the author focuses not as much on "artistic" fiction, but rather on the way it it is necessary for human mind to make up a story and live it, from dreams to personal identity.

My only complaint is that each topic is given no more than cursory overview, but still, that is enough to get a general picture. ( )
  Beholderess | Dec 17, 2013 |
Enjoyable and interesting especially for those involved in writing or studying fiction. ( )
  ritaer | Aug 11, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
This is an excellent resource for students to understand why things are the way they are. It would be a great extension to have students make up their own stories like that ones in this book.
added by courtneyemahr | editCourtney E. Mahr
 
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0547391404, Hardcover)

Jonathan Gottschall on The Storytelling Animal

What is the storytelling animal? Only humans tell stories. Story sets us apart. For humans, story is like gravity: a field of force that surrounds us and influences all of our movements. But, like gravity, story is so omnipresent that we are hardly aware of how it shapes our lives. I wanted to know what science could tell us about humanity's strange, ardent love affair with story.

What inspired you to write this book? I was speeding down the highway on a gorgeous autumn day, cheerfully spinning through the FM dial, and a country music song came on. My normal response to this sort of catastrophe is to turn the channel as quickly as possible. But that day, for some reason, I decided to listen. In "Stealing Cinderella," Chuck Wicks sings about a young man asking for his sweetheart's hand in marriage. The girl's father makes the young man wait in the living room, where he notices photos of his sweetheart as a child, "She was playing Cinderella/ She was riding her first bike/ Bouncing on the bed and looking for a pillow fight/ Running through the sprinkler/ With a big popsicle grin/ Dancing with her dad, looking up at him. . ." And the young man suddenly realizes that he is taking something precious from the father: he is stealing Cinderella. Before the song was over I was crying so hard that I had to pull off the road. I sat there for a long time feeling sad about my own daughters growing up to abandon me. But I was also marveling at how quickly Wicks's small, musical story had melted me into sheer helplessness. I wrote the book partly in an effort to understand what happened to me that day.

But don't you worry that science could explain away the magic of story? I get this question a lot. The answer is "No! A thousand times, no!" Science adds to wonder; it doesn't dissolve it. Scientists almost always report that the more they discover about their subject, the more lovely and mysterious it becomes. That's certainly what I found in my own research. The whole experience left me in awe of our species--of this truly odd primate that places story (and other forms of art) at the very center of its existence.

Children come up a lot in this book, including your own children. . . Yes, I spent a lot of time observing my two daughters (in this I took my cue from Darwin, who was a doting father, but not shy about collecting observational data on his large brood). I got lucky. My girls happened to be 4 and 7 during the main period that I was working on my book. This is the golden period of children's pretend play. And I was able to observe them spontaneously creating these fantastic wonder-worlds, with these elaborate and dangerous plots. I noticed that my girls spent almost all of their awake time in various kinds of make-believe. And I was invited to enter those worlds myself, to play the roles of princes and Ken dolls and monsters. I learned a lot about the nature of story from my girls. Story and other forms of art are often seen as products of culture. But this perspective is one-sided. Story blooms naturally in a child--it is as effortless and reflexive as breathing.

Are dreams a form of storytelling? Yes, they are. Dreams are, like children's make-believe, a natural and reflexive form of storytelling. Researchers conventionally define dreams as "intense sensorimotor hallucinations with a narrative structure." Dreams are, in effect, night stories: they focus on a protagonist--usually the dreamer--who struggles to achieve desires. Researchers can't even talk about dreams without dragging in the basic vocabulary of English 101: plot, theme, character, scene, setting, point of view, perspective. The most conservative estimates suggest that we dream in a vivid, story-like way for more than six solid years out of a seventy-year lifespan. So dreams are definitely part of the evolutionary riddle of storytelling.

What is the future of story? In the digital age, people are reading less fiction, but this is because they've found new ways to jam extra story into their lives--on average we watch five hours of TV per day, listen to hours of songs, and spend more and more time playing story-centric video games. I think we are seeing, in video games, the birth of what will become the 21st century's dominant form of storytelling. The fantasy lands of online games like World of Warcraft attract tens of millions of players, who spend an average of 20–30 hours per week adventuring in interactive story. Players describe the experience of these games as "being inside a novel as it is being written." In upcoming decades, as computing power increases exponentially, these virtual worlds are going to become so attractive that we will be increasingly reluctant to unplug. So the real danger isn't that story will disappear from our lives. It is that story will take them over completely.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:32 -0400)

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