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!

Your Favorite Author?


It takes a while to discover which authors you might call ‘favorites.’ I, for one, tend to bounce from book to book, rarely lingering on a single author unless they wrote classics.

Charles Dickens has been a favorite author of mine from the start—I read A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve!—but apart from him, I have never thought, “I need to read all the books this person wrote.” There are too many to choose from, I think, to not allow room to explore.

shelf above: Agatha Christie & history (mostly European); below, historical fiction and women writers I enjoy

At last, however, I have found some authors who—while I hesitate to call them favorites—I would want to read their books over and over. It’s their writing style; it’s the way they build the worlds in their novels.

Why don’t I call them favorites? I don’t know; I’ve always had an easier time picking favorite novels than favorite authors. After all, an author might have one really great book, while their others are mediocre; I still like them, but are they a favorite?

Have you ever grappled with the question of a favorite author? I would love to hear if you settled on one, and if so, what you love most about them!

Featured is a photo of a shelf with some of the authors I would read again. (There are more, but their books are on my Kindle!)

Review: Anne of Ingleside


My journey through Annetober took me from Anne’s House of Dreams to Anne of Ingleside, the fifth book in the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery.

This book differs from the first because it focuses on the Blythe children–Jem, Walter, Shirley, Diana, Anne, and newborn Rilla. (If you hadn’t caught on yet, Rilla is short for Marilla, who certainly is deserving of a child to be named after her!) Ingleside was the second home that Anne and Gilbert lived in after their marriage, and it is where they stayed to raise their loving family.

This chronicle of Anne’s life allows us to laugh and cry over the years when their children are still young enough to get into trouble. With a big family like theirs, there’s always trouble to get into. We are delighted whenever one of the Blythe children finds themself in an awkward spot; it’s a comical way for them to learn a lesson–and for readers to learn it, too.

I was impressed at the distinct personalities each of the children have. Jem is a soldier trapped in a child’s body, ready to fight but too small to fight any real battles. Walter is a dreamer, very much like his mother was in the first book, and I could relate to his sensitive ways. Diana struggles to make friends, and for a while is insecure enough to associate with anyone at school, no matter the trouble it might bring about.

Having by now finished the series, I am doubly impressed that these personalities matured consistently. Walter will not suddenly stop being a dreamer when he’s a young man; Jem is still ready to fight. That is a post for another day, though.

Gilbert Blythe shone in this book. He is a hard-working doctor, well-respected in the community, often losing sleep to go and see a patient. In this book, Anne’s dreams seemed to move aside so that we could have a better view of him. At last we can appreciate Gilbert’s accomplishments, seeing him for the intelligent and responsible man he is. While I had already admired him, I appreciated that Montgomery gave him a spot of more importance.

As for Anne, she is happy to run her house, already having spent so much time as a schoolteacher. If you remember that Anne and Gilbert both were the best students at their schools, you might think that Montgomery was giving us a chance to appreciate Gilbert’s good grades as well as Anne’s.

Like in the other books, you’ll find plenty of fascinating characters in Anne of Ingleside. Susan the housekeeper, in particular, was my favorite. She’s a great help to Anne with the children, more of an aunt or beloved nanny than a housekeeper. Her wisdom helps the family out of many scrapes, and she has some lines that made me chuckle. Susan has a solution for everything.

My favorite scenes in this novel were those of forgiveness. When Jem discovers that the pearl necklace he bought his mother was fake, he thinks he has done a great wrong; he begs her to forgive him for having fooled her into thinking they were real, but mothers always know best. Anne assures him that the effort he made to save up for that pearl necklace made it worth more than a handful of real pearls.

I also loved how Anne and Gilbert settled a disagreement, towards the end of the book. With age come new worries and stresses. Gilbert is busy with work, and Anne has begun to notice in herself signs of aging–her red hair turning silver, her energy no longer what it used to be. It has lowered her spirits enough that she and Gilbert have a misunderstanding. We discover in the end that their love is still young and full of spirit. I think this scene was meant to remind us readers that we should always tell a person how we feel about them, because when life becomes a challenge, kind words do help.

The storytelling in this whole series is magnificent. We meet and say farewell to characters in such a natural manner that we could almost reminisce on them as people we actually knew in real life. They are so vivid that we can stop in a moment of distraction and think, “Hmm, I wonder what happened to Captain Jim?” or “What’s new with Susan?” This is the sort of story that beats time; it wins hearts of readers for generations, and it takes great skill to create such a world.

I am nostalgic for such a world. I can easily imagine that these places–Green Gables, Ingleside, the House of Dreams–do exist in some dimension we can only access in between book covers. I am nostalgic for a world where people spoke in person, built things with their hands, valued the concept of a loving family, and passed traditions on to their children. 

The Internet connects us with friends, which is wonderful, but we lost so many valuable talents–such as the ability to make our own clothing, or to enjoy the silence during a beautiful sunset, or to value gifts like Jem’s necklace. It is fortunate that books like these keep such powerful, warm places alive for us today.

In the next book, Rainbow Valley, Anne is no longer the main character. It focuses on her children as they grow into adolescents–and make more mistakes. The Blythe family is flourishing, and they invite us to join them in their play through the book; I will post my thoughts on it next week.

Review – Crave the Rose: Anne Brontë at 200


During my adventures reading books I have become aware of the fact that, when a story is timeless, it’s in part because of the person who wrote it.

I have decided to learn more about the authors behind those stories which have survived over the centuries, which our grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed. Anne Brontë’s biography was the first I read.

Called Crave the Rose, I believe the biography to be an elegant tribute to the youngest Brontë sister. Though I knew that many people in Anne’s family had written books, I did not know how very literary the Brontës were; indeed, until I read Crave the Rose, I didn’t even know they had a brother, Branwell.

I also did not know that there had been two older sisters who had died. Named Maria and Elizabeth, death took them before Anne was old enough to remember them.

Anne Brontë was said by many to be the prettiest of her sisters.

The Brontës were stalked by death. Beginning with their mother, Maria, who expired when Anne was a baby, death took their family one by one; finally, only their father, Patrick remained. How deep his grief must have been after seeing all of his family depart this world.

It is a good length. I say this because I did not once skim the chapter or think “there’s too much filler.” On the contrary, I lamented that Anne didn’t live long enough to have a thicker biography. I suppose we readers add to her literary legacy by reading and loving her work.

I was first struck by Anne’s talent at poetry in the verses that the author shared at the beginning of every chapter. Her words could start a heart racing with joy, or make it share in her great despair. She felt each emotion so deeply that it bounced off the page.

There are moments in literature when you find connections between two authors you admire and must stop to think of the magnitude. I learned in Crave the Rose that Elizabeth Gaskell, whose work I also enjoy, wrote a controversial biography of the Brontë family painting a glum picture of them, depicting the father as abusive.

As I read about this part of their story, I couldn’t be angry with Mrs Gaskell. I was instead excited that greatness connects with greatness. North and South by Mrs Gaskell is one of my favorite books.

Learning that the Brontës were in this way connected to Elizabeth Gaskell made me feel like a historian uncovering a gem in the words of a page. It seems that the Brontës were a favorite subject of criticism; there is a biography of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier, whose work I have yet to read, which also supposedly gives him a bad light.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Anne Brontë

I did not realize until reading Crave the Rose how dedicated to the written word this family was. Their story is tragic and empowering.

I pictured Anne and Charlotte on their one trip to London, two small and meek women, determined to prove to their publisher that there were indeed three authors in the famous Bell literary trio, with nothing to support their claim but correspondence with the publisher. It must have been frightening, but they were determined to defend their work–as they should have been.

The Brontë sisters

Then I pictured Anne falling ill shortly after this trip. She succumbed to the consumption soon after it took her sister, Emily. I admire the recorded courage with which she lived her final days, courage I cannot fathom. I have a fear of death, myself; accounts like these challenge my perspective.

If you want to find hope in this world again, begin searching history for people like Anne Brontë. Their small acts of bravery will be lost in time if we do not keep their memories alive. I can only hope that I will one day be as determined a writer as Anne Brontë, and that I will not be afraid when facing death.

Anne, despite being the youngest daydreamer of the family, seems to me to have been the bravest of them all.

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.

Anne Brontë

The Catholic Series: My Next Challenge


The Communion of Saints

Wondering what the Communion of Saints is? Read this article!

As a writer, what I love most about telling stories is that it allows you to create people. With enough practice, you can make them so lifelike that readers will feel them to be like friends.

This month, I’m wrapping up my trilogy on merpeople. It might have a spin-off trilogy later, but I’m satisfied to tell Rose’s story in three books, or possibly piece them together so that they are one. It depends on what might happen when I edit them.

Because I have written about magic for so long, I’ve decided to try something different when this trilogy is finished. I’m in a phase of discovering my faith again, seeing the beauty of being a Catholic striving for sainthood. I’ve been mulling over a new project—and this week decided to go for it.

I want to write tales of everyday Catholics who believe in the Sacraments—and especially in the Real Presence. I want to prove that faith can be captured in fiction writing. The stories will vary, but the main characters will have Catholicism in common.

It won’t all be perfect faith; I will write about the soul whose faith falters with as much care as he who believes. The point of this project is to write about realistic characters; every believer has doubts.

These stories will not be long. I predict they’ll be the length of a short story or a novella. If one does make it to “novel length,” I’ll be thankful, but shorter stories often have the most impact.

Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. – Reading has made many saints.

St. Josemaría Escrivá

As for POV, tense, or outlining, I don’t know what the stories will look like. I’m in collecting mode, gathering stories from people whose grandparents were devout, or those who believed that God would keep His promises and waited on Him until He did.

I have a few ideas; in my mind, I see these “small” acts of faith as the signs of future Saints. We can all be Saints.

They might be written in the form of a diary, or letters being exchanged; through this project, I am exploring new ways of storytelling.

We all know the tales of St. Thérèse and St. Joan of Arc; there are thousands of known Saints. I hope that the stories I write will remind us that we can also become Saints by living simple lives.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Hebrews 12:1, NIV, italics mine

If you know someone with a good story about faith, love, vocations, anything that would make for an inspirational short story, please share. I can make stuff up, yes, but real people add life to the narrative.

I am eager to set aside the magic and see life through the eyes of faith. I’m going to learn a lot, writing these stories.

Nothing is stranger and more beautiful than real life, nothing more marvelous than His Sacrifice.

What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation…In this world I cannot see the Most High Son of God with my own eyes, except for His Most Holy Body and Blood.

St. Francis of Assisi on the Eucharist and Real Presence of Christ

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf


For a month I have been devouring The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. It tells the story of scientist Alexander von Humboldt’s love for science and nature, describing in exciting detail all the countries that he visited and all of his achievements.

I carried it down to South America intending to read it on the plane, but sleep prevented that. Then I brought it back home to the US, where it sat on the bedside table of my aunt’s house in Virginia for three weeks while I hung out with my cousins.

So many distractions emerged that I was not able to get to it until June, and it gripped me at once. Including compelling sketches and visuals of his journeys, it made me somewhat nostalgic for a time when there was more to discover.

Von Humboldt was in love with science, and had a level of concentration for his projects that I envy. After a tour of South America, he spent every free moment writing an account of his journey and discoveries that spanned several books, which I intend to read at some point.

Science has never been one of my fortes, but as I read The Invention of Nature I wondered whether that may have been different if I’d learned hands-on like he did. I found myself itching to dig in the ground with him for an interesting beetle, or to scale mountains that strike awe in me today.

His love for nature might be strong as my love for literature. What I feel is a physical need to always have a book with me; what he felt was a physical need to discover the truth of the world. They’re different subjects, but the passion is similar, and isn’t truth still truth, whether it is in the pages of a book?

Some of the things von Humboldt did make me smile, like when he promised the Empress Alexandra that he would find her diamonds in the Russian mines, and showed up with dozens of them.

He rightly believed slavery to be immoral, and spent his entire life as an abolitionist. While he got along well with American presidents, he constantly lamented that, at the time, it did not seem that slavery would be abolished.

There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.

Alexander von Humboldt

Von Humboldt wrote tirelessly on the broad subjects of nature and science, until he became too old to travel anymore. At this point, heartbreakingly, he began to forget what he himself had said.

Nonetheless, he became a hero, and the world mourned when he died. He had become the trusted voice on science; he inspired who we consider to be the greats of nature writing, like Darwin and John Muir.

I love books about historical figures, and I am grateful that this one exists. More people should know about Alexander von Humboldt and all the things he did to contribute to our knowledge today.

Until recently, I didn’t have a “favorite” genre when it came to books; this past year, I’ve discovered that, aside from the classics, I most enjoy history and historical fiction. I want to read about figures that changed the world, even finding obscure heroes that should be known. Perhaps it stems from an innate desire to someday, somehow, change the world myself.

My focus has therefore shifted to history as well as fantasy, and I’m eager to explore these two genres. Fantasy makes me dream; history makes me grateful– or, in certain situations, humbles me.

I recommend The Invention of Nature because I think more people should love their work in the way hat von Humboldt did. He was the very first person to see many remarkable things that we take for granted today.

Though it might seem as if everything in the world has been discovered, there is always some marvelous thing that needs to be seen for the first time, if not by the world, than by the person looking.

Do you have a historical hero that you think should come to light? Give me history book recommendations; I beg you, I can’t get enough of it!

To Whom It May Concern


Let it be said of me
That my words waded
Where the waves
Devour,

Intent on saving you
For a new Day,
For it was not
Your Hour.

I don’t believe
I will meet you;
I shall not Know
Who you are,

Yet my words,
Relentless, found you,
Be it near or far.

For those who found my work long aft I’ve faded like a flower,

I hope you found a verse or two, to last another hour.

xx

Prologue


Let it be said of me,
“She was open, like a book.”
& like a book,
Some people can’t get much
Further than page 1.
I am a poem-volume
Amidst documents of war;
The thrill explorers felt as
Their schooners left the shore.

One day I’ll be a Favorite Book
Read ‘neath the setting sun.
For now, I’ll stay true to myself
And whisper my page 1.

Shared with dVerse Open Link Night. Check them out for great poetry!

A PROVISION FOR LOVE by Heather Chapman


It has been a long while since I read a book that warmed my heart as much as this one did. A Provision for Love by Heather Chapman was too short, in my opinion. This might be a good thing; in many cases, the short books are more potent, finding their places in your heart more easily.

Ivy’s grandmother has written for her a list of qualities to seek in a potential husband; this list includes traits that mean a man isn’t worth Ivy’s time. The list is written in a poetic form, and in some places borders on absurdity, but it was fun watching as Ivy sized up her possible suitors according to the advice that her grandmother had given—and watching Grandmother have fun as she watched the process unfold.

I was satisfied with the ending; I don’t think Ivy’s choice could have been more perfect. The list worked; it led her to a worthy gentleman—or rather, opened her eyes to the gentleman who had been standing in front of her the entire time. I know I will be reading this delightful little book again.

Creativity in Quarantine


I would love to say that I am #StayingAtHome, but I found this situation more complicated—and emotionally loaded.

When we first arrived in Peru, we were staying in a hotel. This was where we were when, halfway into our trip, a quarantine and curfew were set; all of the stores closed. Any place that we might have gone to have fun has been shut down for weeks.

After that, we left the hotel to spend the remainder of our trip at our grandmother’s house; there is still nowhere to go except for the grocery store.

Boredom can be painful.

I expected that quarantine of such a nature would give me inspiration to finish a book. Instead, I’m writing a few chapters, but they are good ones.

It’s hard to focus on creative writing when the media makes you so hyper aware of the bad things happening in the world. We are all feel a little out of place. We are all celebrating small victories, like finishing a chapter or reading a long book.

As we wait out the last three days, hoping the U.S. Government will get us home, I’m allowing myself to feel the negative feelings. They can lead to clarity. They can serve as inspiration. Ultimately, they can guide us.

I hope you’ve found something to keep you sane during this time. We are all seeing the world in a different way; how have these events changed your viewpoint?