story time

Why it’s important not just to read (and listen to) stories, but to tell them too

Videos of famous writers reading their stories prove the point.

I grew up with a bunch of wild stories planted randomly, beautifully, and chaotically by my parents. One of the first stories my father told me, was of Marie Curie, sitting wonderstruck in her science class at school, listening to the teacher describing the infinite dimensions of space.

The story, as told by my father, and completely uncorroborated by facts, unfolds with the teacher telling all the kids in the class to close their eyes and imagine the ever-expanding universe. Curie closes her eyes, starts to assimilate and comprehend the expansion – and faints. This was a story from the imagination, unbridled, pure, and all consuming.

I remember another series of stories told by my father, over and over again, of a bird, and a bear. Stories of unlikely friendships, tolerance, even love, amongst those not considered to be equals, and not allowed to love.

I faintly remember the mists of stories told by my grandfather, who lived in England for a year, and came back with no money, and tons of massive tin boxes, full of stories, books, and a radio. My father grew up dismantling and building radios, for fun, for money, and later, for stories of perseverance.

Play
Jeffrey Eugenides reading from "Middlesex"

Channelling, not just telling

Years later, in The Way of Chuang Tzu, I read a short story about a woodcarver named Khing. When people ascribed his excellent craftsmanship to the work of spirits, Khing spelt the secret at the end – “My own collected thought encountered the hidden potential in the wood.”

This was a tale of the assimilation of years of stories into one’s self. Susan Sontag aptly calls it self-devotion. This was a story of becoming something other than what has been foretold for you, of channelling the power of the spirits – stories of witchcraft, wizardry and self-love.

This is how I grew up with the stories of the valley I called home for many many years, of the river that once flowed, and then stopped; of the hills and the abandoned, haunted hotel at the fringe of the town; of the mall road with it’s accumulation of stories from the wanderers, the pain it suffered, and the tale it lived to tell.

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Kurt Vonnegut, reading from Breakfast of Champions

Stories give us power

All of these stories are supremely important, to me, and the world. These are the stories of imagination, love and humanity. It matters how early we are told these stories, how beautifully they are woven into the narratives of our lives, and the quiet power they have over our existence. These stories are important, because so often, when we are powerless against the uncertain, unpredictable, caustic forces of this tumultuous world, there is power in the way we tell our stories.

Stories are important, because they infuse humanity in history, and help us prepare for battle, for standing up, albeit rarely, for the lesser-known principles; allowing us the courage to tell our children to believe. Stories are important, because they live within us, and grow with us, much like our souls are drenched and enriched with the first memory of a lingering rain, or the shapeless crystal of a snowflake melting at the tip of our tongues. Stories are important because we have power over them, to change the scope of reality, craft a new dream, and make it personal, deeply personal, something that may be missing from the politics, love and the bonds of our time.

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Zadie Smith, reading from "On Beauty"

Stories matter because they last through the ages. Stories of gods become religion, stories of brave-hearts create heroes, stories of imagination help in understanding the universe and save humanity, stories of perseverance and self-love create astounding leaders; and most importantly, stories of a better kind help humans dream better, and I firmly believe, love better.

So look within yourself, and find a story to tell. When you do find it, make the desperate, wandering children of this world taste it. It may change their life; it might even change the narrative, and give us a better leader, or perhaps even a better world. I call this changing the world, one story at a time. Moreover, life, bereft of good stories, makes us, as The Little Prince tells us, mushrooms, not men.

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Truman Capote reading from "Breakfast at Tiffany’s"
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