Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
The need to tell stories, to create narratives, grows from the weird essence of the human condition
Endings That Hover by Nelly Reifler
The need to tell stories,
to create narratives, grows from the weird essence of the human
condition: we are conscious, and inextricable from consciousness is
the awareness that we are going to die. This knowledge makes simply
living kind of a crazy act. Plus, life is chaotic, and most of what
happens during our short time alive just happens to us. Most of what
happens occurs by chance or through the will of some outside entity;
occasionally we are able to exert power, but usually with compromise
and adjustment. So we narrate our lives as we live them, making sense
of the chaos by organizing our experiences. Forming our lives into
plot, we can pick out certain patterns and see some cause and effect.
We learn to navigate the chaos, sometimes, little by little. We
believe we are moving forward.
There are seven billion of
us walking around with our stories unfolding inside our heads. We
have an unspoken -- generally unconscious -- understanding of this
fact. We tend to cluster within cultures where our narratives take
similar forms. There is, though, still the problem of language. Much
of the frustration of being human arises from the different
experiences we have of words and their meanings, even when we speak
the same tongue.
A crabby and often cryptic writing coach
occasionally stations himself in the back corner of my study.
Inexplicably, he is a Greek -- an old Greek, as in, hoary of mane and
leathern of skin, as well as an ancient Greek, as in, toga-clad and
Socratic in aspect. In fact, he may be none other than Diogenes
himself, but I can't be sure, as he never talks about himself and,
unlike the original, this fellow writes nothing that later gets
carved in stelae -- though, come to think of it, he does talk with
the irritated terseness of one obliged to chisel his own words in
Over the years, whenever he has intruded upon me, I have, unbeknownst
to him, switched over to a separate file on my computer and
transcribed his remarks. They are numbered, these comments of his,
because this is how he alerts me that he's standing back there
between the lamp and the bookshelf: He just declares a number.
Interestingly, the numbers have not all arisen in order. Rather, he
seems to be citing a pre-existing list, the arrangement of which is
pedagogically reasonable but not exactly equivalent to the order in
which I personally have needed his oracular utterances. Somehow, from
the way he declares the numbers, I can tell they're Roman numerals;
if I knew Ionian numerals, he'd use those, but I don't, so he settles
for the next best thing.