June 01, 2010

What I am reading

Robert Fulford's The Triumph of Narrative is a great book that I have borrowed from my local library. Among other things, it has made me think a lot about my grandmother who turned 94 in March this year and who has always had many stories for me, and still does, told in a language powerful even though, and perhaps because, it is not her first.

It was my grandmother's determination in her challenging life that first made me consider writing a book more than 15 years ago. It's still on my mind, and I have made some tentative starts at different points. For various reasons I have not pursued it any further.

But, as Lawrence Block says in Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print, "Writing the book is an organic process, and we carry the book with us wherever we go." I have been carrying the idea of a book about my grandmother for a long time and it is now in the forefront of my mind as I am wondering again if and how I should tell her story.

As a longtime journalist I have always thought that I needed to verify the authenticity of my grandmother's many great and dramatic stories. But now I realise that stories can just be told as stories for their own sake, just as long as we do not pretend them to be anything they are not.

While I have yet to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Living to Tell the Tale, the epitaph in this book struck me when I read it at my grandmother's apartment in the Netherlands in April: “Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”

When I returned from the Netherlands, Fulford's book spoke to me from the library shelves so I brought it home and highly recommend it.

In the first of its five chapters, titled Gossip, Literature and Fictions of the Self, Fulford quotes from Charlotte Linde’s Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence, “Life stories express our sense of self – who we are … and how we became that person ... communicate our sense of self to others and negotiate it with others.”

Fulford writes: “We might add another level of meaning to what Linde says: when we make stories, when we turn raw events into personal sagas, parables, tales, and anecdotes, we are often struggling to come to terms with one of the inescapably difficult and puzzling facts of existence. Storytelling is an attempt to deal with and at least partly contain the terrifyingly haphazard quality of life. Large parts of life, sometimes the most crucial parts, depend on random happenings, contingency… we cannot bear to think that there is no meaningful structure in the way we develop.”

No comments: