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The Importance of a Story

The following blog post was written by our Executive Director, Joe Flaherty.

We are, as the author Jonathan Gottschall, expostulates in his book of the same title, The Storytelling Animal, natural storytellers. Story, whether it be in oral or written form, is how we make sense of this world we find ourselves in, how we pass along knowledge and values to ourselves and future generations, how we learn about others, and how we try out other people’s lives and learn about other cultures. It is the way in which we can crawl inside the skin of others and see the world through their eyes. In story are expressed our individual and collective hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations… Stories help us understand and find our way in the world.

As countries, as religions, as families, and as individuals, we have our narratives, our myths, whether they are true or not. They tell us how our group is the best, the strongest, the most moral, the chosen ones. They tell us how we overcame suffering to get where we are today; they give us a sense of belonging and purpose.

The most literal, and at the same time, most metaphorical example I’ve ever heard about the power and importance of storytelling was related to me a number of years ago by the poet, Gary Snyder. He told me about how, during a trip to the Australian outback, he and a number of his fellow travelers had retained the services of an Aboriginal guide to lead them through the desert. The guide started reciting a story as soon as they started walking toward the Range Rover that would drive them to their eventual destination. After they had climbed in the vehicle, and the vehicle started to move forward, the guide began speaking much faster, but would slow down again if the vehicle ever slowed down. Snyder eventually figured out what was going on, he told me, and then had his speculations verified after the journey by Australians knowledgeable about this subject. It seemed that because there were so few visible markers to guide them through the deserts, the native inhabitants had developed and memorized stories, told in real time, that would guide them on their journies. When they got to a certain part of the story they might find some water, or some shade, within a near distance. Or, perhaps, at that part in the narrative theyhad to turn in a different direction. These travel directions were intended to be recited at the speed of walking, so that when the guide suddenly found himself in a moving vehicle, he had to greatly speed up his recitation if he was to have any hope of finding his, and their, way.

Story is crucial to us, we could not exist without it. As important to us as air, food, and water. And at certain moments in our lives, even more so….

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Neverwhere: A Book Review

The following blog was written by staff member Tate DeCaro.

Our Writers & Books Young Professionals book club, the Book Thieves, is currently in the midst of reading Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, our 5th out of 6 books of the year. And I recently found out that the book is actually a companion novelization of a BBC television series from the late 90’s, also by Neil Gaiman. I watched a clip of the show and it was certainly very BBC 1990’s – i.e., low budget. (I know this because I traveled around England in 1997, and got hooked on a couple of very poor quality but completely addictive BBC shows while there!) Still, I’m interested enough to see the origins of the story that I may have to seek out the series and watch some of it online, if possible. In addition, in 2013 Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy, amongst others, did a BBC Radio six-part adaptation of the novel, which I’d love to hear.

neverwhere1       9781471316487

For now, though, I’m listening to the Audible version, which is narrated by the author, a hauntingly good reader. I’ve read Neverwhere before many years ago, but don’t recall being quite as sucked in as while listening to Gaiman voice his own characters. Not all writers can also successfully weave the narrative in spoken word, but Gaiman is clearly an expert story-teller, on and off the page. (As a side note, this all makes me feel incredibly jealous of all the kids at Bard College, my alma mater, who get to attend his classes! He joined the Bard faculty in 2014 as a Professor in the Divisions of the Arts and of Languages and Literature.) Production-value wise I’m also enjoying the fact that at certain moments in the text when the main character, Richard Mayhew, is dreaming, they incorporate an echo-y quality to Gaiman’s voice that makes it sound like he’s a in a deep tunnel… which is perfectly appropriate, since the majority of the action takes place underneath London, in “London Below,” a magical and bizarre world that exists under the streets of “London Above.” This is sort of a more scary and dangerous version of Alice in Wonderland – a regular, basically boring person from the “ordinary” world falls down the rabbit hole, or, more likely in this case, the manhole, and enters into a fantastical world where nothing makes sense and everyone seems to know what’s going on but that poor, tiresomely normal person from above.

This is the Book Thieves’ YA read of the year, and I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on it next month. If you’re interested in joining us, we meet at 7pm on September 3 at Writers & Books. Thieves bring themed food and drink to the meetings… so I’m anticipating some British delicacies that hopefully have more to do with “London Above,” because “London Below” food seems to mostly mean roasted cat, and cottage cheese and lettuce sandwiches.

Next up for the Book Thieves is The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, which we’ll be reading in two parts and meeting on November 5 & December 3 for. For more information find us on Facebook (Book Thieves, social group).

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“Vocational Bliss” Urban Fellow Blog Post

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Writers & Books was lucky enough to have University of Rochester student Jamie Rudd as our Urban Fellow this summer. The Urban Fellows Program is a unique 10-week summer program where students are placed in a paid fellowship in agencies located in the City of Rochester. The program emphasizes civic engagement, promotes learning about urban issues, and fosters an appreciation for cross-cultural issues and urban life. Jamie wrote a great blog post about her time with us over the summer, which can be found here:

Vocational Bliss: My Summer Internship at Writers & Books



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Book vs Film Series: Game of Thrones Season 5

The following contribution to our Book vs. Film Series is written by Chris Fanning.

Here I am, talking about Game of Thrones again…because I’m still obsessed with Game of Thrones.

Three weeks ago, Writers & Books hosted one of our “Meeting of the Small Council” events. It’s a chance for book readers and show viewers to get together and listen to me talk about talk about comparisons between the book and the show. This meeting was different from others in the past because I, like everyone else in the group, am finally at a point where I honestly don’t know what’s going to transpire in this story, either on screen and in print.

I had a rough time adjusting to this thought. Once season five started airing on HBO this past Spring, I was uncertain of how I felt about characters I loved in the book not making it to the small screen or about existing characters absorbing those roles. Thank the old gods and the new, I have several friends who were in the same boat as me.

Here’s what I’ve concluded. Adaptations of books to other media rarely live up to the world I’ve created in my mind. My family hated walking out of the Harry Potter movies with me; I’d only want to talk about what was different or left out. However, I found that in this season of GoT, I was just as invested in what was going on in the television show as I was with where I’d left my comrades in the books. They are two different stories to me and I can’t expect them to be the same.

Until 2056(?) when George R.R. Martin comes out with the 6th book, I’ll be re-watching seasons one through seven of Game of Thrones. Either way, they’re feeding my fantasy fiction addiction.