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!

Mythology of the Butterfly


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The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.
—Ecouchard le Brun

Every spring we look into the flowerbeds, hoping to see their fluttering wings. They’re the daydream of the child, and the memory of the gardener. They inspire awe and wonder, and we create environments hoping to attract them.

Butterflies have enchanted poets and artists since the beginning of time. They are documented in field guides. We watch from April to September, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Swallowtail or a Monarch.

Many people do not know the rich collection of mythology concerning butterflies. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that they carry messages to heaven; you might count the spots on their wings to predict how many children you’ll have.

There are many more tales where those came from. Butterfly mythology is fascinating. Knowing what our ancestors said enhances the thrill that we feel, watching them vanish into the sky.

Here are three pieces of folklore involving these lovely insects:

  • Native American lore is rich. One of their stories is that the serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, was born of a chrysalis. Native Americans are not the only ones to make symbolism of the cocoon; to many, it represents the struggle as we move from one phase to another. We break our cocoons to face fresh challenges with wings and wisdom. The butterfly cocoon is often more beautiful than the creature itself.
  • In many parts of the world, pagan tradition has a special place for this elegant insect. In Ireland, it’s considered bad luck to kill a white butterfly—they’re believed to symbolize the human soul after death. Most of us don’t think much of the white butterfly, our eyes seeking out color instead. In Ireland, this cannot be; we must pay attention, lest we pass a spirit and not pay it due homage.
  • In other places, we should look for the red butterfly. According to Icy Sedgwick, red butterflies often mean important news is on its way. However, the Scots believed red butterflies were witches, an example of how two cultures can see a thing differently. It doesn’t end there: if a sailor saw a yellow butterfly, he might perish on his next journey.

Special mention: if you want a fascinating read, visit Dealan-De’s account of The Wooing of Etain.

When spring comes back around this year, keep an eye out the window for a red butterfly; it might be a witch. And if you are a sailor, be kind to the yellow butterfly, lest you get into a boating accident! Remember that, out in the garden, anything is possible.