Paper or eBook? THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL by Jonathan Gottschall

Is the paper book becoming extinct?

This is a question that keeps surfacing, and it divides the community of readers in a manner that is not always pleasant. Debates rise that are unfriendly in nature. If you say that you prefer eBooks or audiobooks, someone feels the need to be judgmental.

We need to remember what a story really is. A story isn’t confined to paper, or an audiobook’s voice, or the screen of your Kindle. A story is something else difficult to describe, and we don’t do it justice by saying it belongs on paper alone.

Are we addicted to books, or to the stories recorded on pages? When the cliche Kindle-versus-paper-book debate surfaces, how many of us stop to think that it is not the paper which keeps us entertained, but the words on it?

The Storytelling Animal is a short book about our natural addiction to fiction, to the escape we have craved for centuries. Gottschall reminds us that, as our world changes, we find stories in different forms.

His insight was fascinating, and it made me question why so many of us participate in the Kindle-versus-paper debate at all. Some like to collect paper books (I’m certainly one of them) but if I can find the story I want on my Kindle for a smaller price, I won’t say no to that. 

It’s the story that eases the banality of day-to-day life. It isn’t paper that plays a story like television screens do, but my own imagination.

Ancient cultures told stories orally. Generations memorized them and passed them down. Now they may be found recorded in books, but were they not stories when they were spoken to attentive crowds? Consider epics like Beowulf; they were not written but spoken by bards. Are they disqualified from being called stories because they did not originate on paper?

One chapter spoke about dreams, how our brains are never through telling stories, even when we sleep. In dreams, the mind goes to a place where bizarre things are ordinary. Later we remember snatches of what we have dreamt, and only in this waking hour do any of these things seem odd, because in the dream it was quite natural.

I’ve always been of the opinion that what humans want is the story. We like to see the titles on our shelves grow; there is certainly satisfaction in watching the line of black Penguin classics increase. What we will carry with us when we aren’t reading are the scenes we visited, the words of poetry planted into our memories like wildflowers.

This doesn’t take the excellence from the paperback or leatherbound book–it only reminds us of what our memories can do. We don’t need to hold paper in our hands to revisit a place we loved. 

The stories that capture our imaginations will live in us after we finish reading. I sometimes wonder what plotline I’ll revisit in my final hours. Will my tired mind wander to a Jane Austen romance, or will it echo verses of poetry?

The eBook did strike a pet peeve when it ended at 60%, only to be followed by promotional features. I wanted more insight on the nature of story and how it affects us as humans. When 40% of a book is promotional, you feel cheated and rather mocked. This book is, therefore, very short.

I enjoyed reading it, but I hope that the paper edition is not like this!

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