review: the storytelling animal

the storytelling animallink: The Storytelling Animal by Jonathon Gottschall

With a title like this, I couldn’t not read it. I love learning about the storytelling aspect of fiction most of all. This book delves into how fiction (the stories we tell ourselves) infiltrates many aspects of our lives.

This book is not a how-to or a writing guide, by any means.  Instead, the chapters discuss dreams and how we fictionalize our experiences into memories.

The good: it’s an easy read citing a lot of studies.  The chapter on dreams was entertaining, and the chapter on unreliable narrators struck a chord with what I’ve read in other psychology books. I agree with his premise of our need for stories, and how we’re evolving storytelling to satisfy those needs in emerging media.

The bad: it’s long for what it is. Casual sexism proliferates, with women only existing in examples for the purpose of belonging to men or procreating the human race, an object to be enraptured by the (of course male) storyteller.

I found his take on Vivian Paley’s book Boys and Girls to be particularly disturbing. He cites the study she did in her classroom as some sort of inflexible law of how the sexes will always behave–segregation of masculine/feminine (aggressive/domestic) play due to evolutionary tendencies.  But the reality is, gender roles are a construct, and changes made inside a classroom environment cannot have their full impact because the world outside the classroom doesn’t change–their home lives, their histories, and the media they consume.

All in all, this book could have used another edit to trim redundant concepts and sexist language.

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