Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The universe is made of tiny stories

Stories are the stuff of life. I fell in love with this idea of the universe not being made up of atoms, but of tiny stories. As a voracious reader and writer, stories part of my lifeblood and this notion is more than just a fanciful pretty idea.

David McCullough, a famous author and historian, give a talk at our university last week, and he talked about history as "the story of people" and that good history is first and foremost a story.  (If you have ever seen the famous PBS series on the Civil War, McCullough was the narrator of the series).

Then later that week I was taking a designing maps class, and we talked about how all maps "tell a story."

I also recently learned how that in teaching, the most effective way to instill understanding of a new concept is to link it to already familiar concepts via - you guessed it - stories. 

The story is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. (Ursula K. LeGuin)

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. (Hannah Arendt)

To me, history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn't just part of our civic responsibility. To me, it's an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.  (David McCullough)

History is a Rorschach test, people.  What you see when you look at it tells you as much about yourself as it does about the past. (Jennifer Donnelly)

History is such a wonderful story of who we think we are.  English [literature] is much more a story of who we really are. (Nikki Giovanni)

I read mostly fiction, and I firmly believe that good quality fiction can teach us - and get us to think - almost as much as non-fiction. But now I'm also thoroughly enjoying McCullough's biography of John Adams, immersed in the tiny stories that eventually led to huge consequences in my country's history. 

What biography of a person or history of a particular time period would most tempt you? 

14 comments:

  1. Since I've studied history and am a writer, I can appreciate both. I don't know whose biography I'd want to read right now. Maybe a writer who struggled and made it? I could use that kind of inspiration.

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  2. I read the biography of Catherine the Great last year and devoured it. I loved all those tiny stories of her life that intersected with so many people and had so many consequences not only for Russia, but the world.

    Of course, reading WW2 biographies and histories is my favorite, but I'd have to say that the biography of a non-famous person left a stronger impression than any other history of the time period has. The book is called "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand and it's about Louis Zamperini. I encourage EVERYONE, not just historians or those interested in WW2, to read it. It's a human story, and it is quite literally one of the best books I've ever read.

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  3. I enjoyed Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields. One of my favorite books is The Diary of Anne Frank. I also love Before Scarlett: The Girlhood Writings of Margaret Mitchell. Along with writings from when she was a young girl, it's a really interesting biography of her childhood. I have a couple books on Laura Ingalls Wilder (other than her own nonfiction books of course!) that are super interesting. I also really liked the nonfiction book Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand.

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  4. What an interesting way of looking at things. I agree.

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  5. Since the Gatsby movie is coming out soon, I've been thinking a lot about the book -- one of my favorites to teach. The 1920s era is so intriguing, and to have a book, written about the 20s, during the 20s, is fascinating. And I usually don't see movies based on books, but I plan to see The Great Gatsby.

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  6. I've always thought of humanity and our history as the weaving of individual stories that have shaped our current reality. It makes me feel connected.

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  7. I loved that Adams' biography. I learned so much reading it. I'm into The History of English in America right now and it's another non-fiction that is amazingly interesting.

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  8. So cool that you've read McCullough's Adams too! The History of English also sounds fascinating. Too many good books out there.

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  9. You put it so beautifully - a weaving of individual stories that have shaped our current reality.

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  10. The movie trailer certain does make the movie sound lush and dramatic. I've read the book, but I was probably too young to appreciate the times and the nuances.

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  11. Oh my goodness I love reading about famous authors! Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell and Wilder - I'm going to have find all of those books. Loved Anne Frank too and Seabiscuit, oh my goodness, I loved that book so much. I planning to read Hillenbrand's Unbroken.

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  12. I am definitely planning on reading Unbroken. I fell in love with Hillenbrand reading Seabiscuit. Which biography of Catherine the Great did you read? I'll add that to the list too.

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  13. Yes, no kidding!!! That's why I love Stephen King's "On Writing" because the whole part is about his road to publication. I love Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" too even though she came to published very easily, everything AFTERWARD was really hard for her, which is a good reminder!

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  14. Yes, that's a good read. I have a lot if respect for JK Rowling for a number of reasons. But she's private, so I doubt she'd write one.

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