Saturday, October 24, 2015

Review - The Secret Life of Stories by: Michael Berube

Title: The Secret Life of Stories
Author: Michael Berube
Publisher: NYU Press
Pages: 240
Format: E-book
Source: NetGalley

Release Date: February 2, 2016


Narrative informs everything we think, do, plan, remember, and imagine. We tell stories and we listen to stories, gauging their well-formedness within a couple of years of learning to walk and talk. Some argue that the capacity to understand narrative is innate to our species; others claim that while that might be so, the invention of writing then re-wired our brains. In The Secret Life of Stories, Michael Berube tells a dramatically different tale, in a compelling account of how an understanding of intellectual disability can transform our understanding of narrative. Instead of focusing on characters with disabilities, he shows how ideas about intellectual disability inform an astonishingly wide array of narrative strategies, providing a new and startling way of thinking through questions of time, self-reflexivity, and motive in the experience of reading. Interweaving his own stories with readings of such texts as Faulkner s The Sound and the Fury, Haddon s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Kingston s The Woman Warrior, and Philip K. Dick s Martian Time-Slip, Berube puts his theory into practice, stretching the purview of the study of literatureand the role of disability studies within it. Armed only with the tools of close reading, Berube demonstrates the immensely generative possibilities in the ways disability is deployed within fiction, finding in them powerful meditations on what it means to be a social being, a sentient creature with an awareness of mortality and causality and sentience itself. Persuasive and witty, Michael Berube engages Harry Potter fans and scholars of literature alike. For all readers, The Secret Life of Stories will fundamentally change the way we think about the way we read. "

My thoughts:

Disabilities come in different types and sizes: physical, mental, emotional… In The Secret Life of Stories, Michael Berube explores how an understanding of intellectual disability can transform our understanding of narrative. In my experience, people are mostly ignorant, and they think those with intellectual disabilities cannot understand things most others do. They couldn’t be further from the truth, and Berube proves that drawing from his own experiences with his children as well as others’.

Having a child with Down Syndrome, Berube got to witness how a child with an intellectual disability reacts to different kinds of literature. Without somebody telling him, just through his experience of listening to his father read to him at night, his child is aware that a story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end and that “things have to happen in it.” Again, without someone telling him how it should be, he knows that just putting a bunch words next to one another doesn’t make a story.

I’m a big fan of discussing books I’ve read with other people. I like hearing their takes on the events and the storytelling, and I’m always fascinated by how the details we catch differ. I always learn more through others’ experiences of reading a book that I myself have read as well, which helps me dig deeper and gain new ways of looking at stories. The Secret Life of Stories has opened a new window for me, and reminded me once again that reading can make everyone feel better and just because one has a disability, they shouldn’t be denied the world of literature.
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