Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

Even though I love the enriching aspect of non-fiction, I don't read a lot of it. My excuse for that is the amount of non-fiction reading I have to do in my "real" life as a science grad student. But when a particularly interesting-sounding title catches my eye, like The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall did, I have to pick it up. And in the end, especially as a reader and lover of stories, I found it incredibly interesting.

The Storytelling Animal is a multidimensional account of the many ways that we use stories, the many reasons why we may have them, the history and development of storytelling, and even some of the science and neurobiology between what stories do to our brains. It's a huge mix of things, and though I did find Gottschall's writing a little scattered at times, overall he did a pretty good job of following a logical sequence. In a way, he told his own story. Gottschall points out that the non-fiction we most love tends to borrow from storytelling, things like memoirs or the way that when watching sports there is always a backstory or rivalry. It's never just about the facts or the game. 

Complimenting The Storytelling Animal are a bunch of black and white photos, that were sometimes interesting but often felt unnecessary. It does help to break up the text, but I wasn't reading the book for the pictures and having a photo of Gottschall's daughters playing dress-up in order to demonstrate the creativity of children just felt pointless. In fact, there were a lot of references to his children throughout the book, and I assume that is the author's way of making the story more personal– of making it more of a story, since his book clearly explains that is what people would rather read. The personal anecdotes were cute, but as a reader I tend to prefer more real-world type examples from history and less from the author's own life.

As a whole, however, The Storytelling Animal is incredibly fascinating. It begins to answer so many questions that I'd never even thought about, and showed how important a role story plays in our everyday lives. How each of us, when we talk about ourselves, is also telling our own story, creating it in our brains as we live– emphasizing certain details, forgetting others. It's really interesting to think about, and Gottschall does a great job of triggering those thoughts.

Something I really found interesting, as somebody who loves writing, was the dissection of what makes a good story really interesting. Really, my major problem with the book is that it sometimes went off on tangents, before coming back to what had been in the middle of being discussed, in a way that was difficult to follow. Even if I wished for a slightly clearer narrative, I really appreciated The Storytelling Animal as what Gottschall has written is both unique and incredibly interesting. This is a perfect book for readers, those ultimate story lovers, but at the same time as Gottschall so aptly points out– each of us is a story lover in our own way.

Release Date: April 10th 2012  Pages: 272  Format: Hardcover 
Source: Thomas Allen & Son Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Buy It: Book Depository

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