As a Mother’s Day gift this year, I asked my family not for a thing but for an experience.
“Let’s get together once a week and read a book aloud.”
With much grumbling—and some one-upsmanship involving my 16-year-old proving how much more mature he is than his 13-year-old brother by being more agreeable—the three men in my life concurred.
I loaded the book I’d like to start with, Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation, onto my Kindle. But as of today, nearly a month later, we have yet to engage in a single reading session. We almost pulled it off a few weeks ago, but Older Son informed me at the last minute that he was committed to walk his friend’s dog.
Honest misunderstanding… or passive-aggressive avoidance?
Either way, I’ve been thinking lately about the different ways we tell and listen to stories. Stories are everywhere: in TV dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Orange Is the New Black. They’re in video games like Outlast and even Minecraft. They’re in 140-character conversations among friends and strangers. They’re in words spilled across a cafe table between near strangers who seem to share an outlook on life.
I’ve written before about the place of long-form fiction in this new world of stories. The arguments seem ceaseless about whether “the novel” is dead. All that hand-wringing used to worry me. What if I am a dinosaur, a dying breed, the last gasp of a civilization unraveling as a result of its addiction to brevity and technology?
Recently, though, I’ve concluded that I don’t care whether the novel is dead or dying, because storytelling is alive and well. It’s like that old business trope about the railroads being superseded by the automobile because the rail companies thought they were in the train business rather than the transportation business. If writers think of themselves as only about words on paper, then their work will be superseded by newly emerging art forms. But if we define ourselves as storytellers, we’ll endure no matter what the medium.
The impetus to share personal journeys, to shape the events of life into a comprehensible narrative, to turn tragedy into anecdote, to understand ourselves by speaking the truth of what we have experienced—these elements of story will only be extinguished with the last breath of human civilization.
This tension between old and new means of expression is part of the theme of my new work, which I am—somewhat ironically—conceiving of as a novel. Consider it the last gasp of a dying dinosaur.
Where do you get your story fix? Take the poll or leave a comment.
I love the break to my brain of reading. The time away from my laptop rejuvenates me. I think people need to slow down and focus. Those are two really important things to do. 🙂
Yes, and it’s so much harder these days when our devices follow us everywhere.
I have sometimes caught myself entertaining worried thoughts about where ‘literature’ may be headed, but then I just have to laugh. It’s like you said, Audrey: The impetus to share personal journeys, to shape the events of life into a comprehensible narrative, to turn tragedy into anecdote, to understand ourselves by speaking the truth of what we have experienced—these elements of story will only be extinguished with the last breath of human civilization.
What surprises me is how heated the debates over literature can become. I mean, it’s not as if this is in the same category as world peace or poverty. (Or is it…?)
I suppose it’s possible that for some the novel is dead, but I think true lovers of novels will always be around. For example, I just bought the newest Stephen King book released a few days ago, and I was wiggling around like an excited kid when I flipped it open and started reading it. I love that books can still fill me with anticipation. I hope the day they don’t never comes!
As do I!
Best idea ever. Written words read well are just glorious. Only by hearing the flow of language, can one learn to write well? Older kids love it if the story is good and the reader is good – even if they won’t admit it until years later. Good for you
Now I just have to find a time when we can all be in the same room for 15 minutes :-).
I don’t understand when I hear ridiculous remarks like “the novel is dead.” As long as we have imagination there is a desire to feed it. We thrive on stories. Could humanity even live without imagination/stories? I think our species would end without it. And where do my “stories” come from? from the make-believe perceived realities that surround me…what else? Imagination!
Hear ye, hear ye! I do think those comments about any form of human imagination being dead result from being overly focused on the form.
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ha! the ones who are saying that are the ones who need a novel THE MOST!