Monday, July 20, 2009

story is us: fiction matters

This is a fabulous article from the Washington Post, a series of vignettes by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. The piece is a few weeks old but the stories of how writing matters are timeless. Here's an example:

The Bolivian town of Llallagua lived from the mine, and in the mine its miners died. Deep in the shafts in the bowels of the mountains, they hunted veins of tin and lost, in a few short years, their lungs and their lives.

I spent some time there and made good friends.

The last night, we were drinking, my friends and I, singing laments and telling bad jokes till just before dawn.

When little time remained before the scream of the siren that would call them to work, my friends fell silent, all of them at once. Then one asked, or pleaded, or ordered: "And now, my brother, tell us about the sea."

I was speechless.

They insisted: "Tell us. Tell us about the sea."

It was the most difficult challenge in all my storytelling life. None of these miners would ever know the sea; each was doomed to die young. And I had no choice but to bring them the sea, the sea that was so far away, discovering words that could drench them to the bone.

translated by Mark Fried
(thanks, Karina)

Fiction is entertainment, yes. (It can't work, otherwise.) But fiction, story, is more. It is culture. It is us.

We are accelerating our own evolution--which is what will save us (if anything can) from extinction. We're doing it via the production and consumption of extra somatic information, the internal recreation of others' experiences. Before there was photography, before there was cinema--and radio and YouTube--there were books. Books matter. Go buy one. Buy a new one. Support a writer.



  1. That excerpt was very powerful. I think we all want to hit that vein, to share our interpretation of the world in a way that others will get a glimpse of what we see.

  2. I had to come back and say, I was so impressed with this blog (and I clicked the links, read your Rant) I went to my personal blog outside of Blogger and echoed your statement. I had no awareness of the used books/chain stores connections before today. It opened up a good dialogue already with my whopping 50 contacts (closed blog) but they 'get it' now, too. And that's a big deal. It's not something any of us thought about.

  3. Yes, sharing is what helps us grow beyond our own experience. Sharing is what increases empathy, reduces war--all those things that will save us.

    I'm delighted that your group now gets it about new books. Thanks for taking the trouble to follow the links.

  4. *wipes tears* What a beautiful work of ... art. Thanks.

  5. I agree that our evolution rate has increased during this Information Age. I'm glad I'm not alone in viewing it to be a good, powerful thing. But most people I know consider it to be a bad thing, unfortunately. I wonder if it's because it encourages empathy, something many people are uncomfortable with.

  6. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but please, please buy some books. The pathetic sliver labeled "Reading" on this chart is simply depressing:

    How The Average U.S. Consumer Spends Their Paycheck

  7. ssas, scary that empathy frightens people...

    stacy, that graphic is great. I'm going to post it separately later. Thanks.

  8. I like the notion that story can save us from extinction.

    If you can, buy a book by Eduardo Galeano. Most of his work is available in English---you'll be supporting translators, too, and getting a taste of Latin American storytelling that's closer to campfire-style sharing (very different from the now-popular blend of encyclopedic García Márquezes and Bolañoses).

  9. I have this on my shelf; I might start it today.

  10. Will you tell us how it is?