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.”
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 It’s like that old business trope about the railroads being superseded by the automobile because the rail companies thought they were in the train business rather than the transportation business. If writers think of themselves as only about words on paper, then their work will be superseded by newly emerging art forms.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.