Why Stories Matter

I love to learn and soak up new ideas, so I mostly read non-fiction.

Every once in a while, though, a novel comes along that teaches me more than a non-fiction treatise ever could.

When I first read The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, I found myself thinking for days on end about its implicit themes.

It changed me.

Set in rural England, the novel depicts an aging butler, Stevens, who manages the household affairs of a once prestigious estate.

Like the antiquated manor, Stevens finds himself in a modernized world that views butlers as mere relics of the past.

The butler devoted his entire life to mastering the art of service, which sounds quite noble, even Christian. But by the novel’s end, Stevens must face the truth. He had been so prideful of the service he rendered that he never questioned whom it was that he served.

He realized later that his boss was a Nazi sympathizer who financially supported the fascist regime. Stevens rationalized his reasons for staying with his long-time employer, but if he had been more honest with himself, he would have seen the truth all along.

In the end, Stevens recognizes with excruciating clarity that, while the service he rendered was indeed exceptional, he served the wrong person.

The last scene finds Stevens sitting on the pier, watching the sun descend into the ocean’s unseen abyss. Just as evening is on its way, his final years of life are also fast approaching. Stevens has two choices:

Will he focus on the remains—the decayed ruins—of his past?
Or will he focus on the time that remains for him in the future?

We all must ask ourselves these same questions. Most of us — at one time or another — have made choices we regret. Most of us have also relied upon rationalizations to make ourselves feel better about those very choices.

The Remains of the Day subtly exposes this human tendency in all of us. And that is what great literature does.

Stories matter when readers can relate to the characters and decide to make positive changes in their own lives because of what they have read. That is the power of a well-told story.

The life of Stevens, an aging English butler, reminds me of another servant facing the end of his life. Joshua. When Joshua spoke to the nation of Israel for the last time, he said:

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . .
But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
~ Joshua 24:15

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret the choices I made. I want to be a servant like Joshua, who crossed treacherous waters and entered the Promised Land.

Do you have a favorite book that changed the way you viewed something?

I’m linking up today with Anne at modernmrsdarcy.com, writing about a book that changed me.

*While the film adaption is performed by excellent actors, the movie cannot capture the interior dialogue that makes the narration in this story so worthwhile. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking novel that is beautifully written, I highly recommend the book over the movie. And don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled the ending.

Why Bloggers Love to Write {Even If They Hated English Class}

Whenever I visit blogs, I often read the following confessions:

• It’s ironic that I want to write a blog because I never enjoyed my English classes.
• I was so happy when I finished my last English class.
• I always hated writing papers in school.
• I’m nervous about writing a blog because I didn’t do well in my English classes.

The desire to write a blog seems to contradict an earlier aversion to writing in an English class. And this apparent paradox undermines the confidence of today’s blogger.

But there’s a reason why bloggers love to write, even if they hated their English classes.

In recent decades, the educational system has elevated scientific objectivism to the point where anything deemed “subjective” is considered synonymous with “inferior.” Research papers require hard facts and verifiable evidence.

Under no circumstances should a writer use the personal pronoun “I.”

Teachers penalize students with poor grades if they begin phrases with “I believe” or “I think.” They label such phrases as “subjective thinking,” which, of course, has no place in a scientific paper.

While this impersonal, objective approach may be appropriate for a scientific research paper, it impairs students from experiencing a genuine encounter with the craft of writing.

Denied their own voice, students are left with a writing experience that’s dry and lifeless.

Writing is a generative process. The act of writing generates ideas whereby the writer can explore his or her thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Through the act of writing, writers discover more about themselves by putting words and meaning to previously nebulous ideas and feelings.

Bloggers already know this to be true, even if they didn’t know what to call it.

Bloggers don’t have to ask, “May I use the personal pronoun ‘I’?” And this is why bloggers have discovered the joy of writing, even if they once hated their English classes.

Were you ever told to avoid the personal pronoun “I”?

* Thankfully, we English teachers are beginning to remedy this in our classrooms.

In fact, I had my college freshmen students start a blog as part of their writing assignments. I gave them weekly writing prompts, and they got to read and comment on their classmates’ responses to the same prompts.

Yes, they still had to write a good old-fashioned research paper with proper citations and formatting, but they also experienced the freedom that comes when writing with their own voice for an audience of their peers.

* * * * *

For anyone interested in improving their craft, I highly recommend On Writing Well by William Zinsser. He was truly a writer ahead of his time. Just read what he had to say, in 1976, about the personal pronoun “I.”

“Writers are obviously at their most natural when they write in the first person. Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity. Therefore I urge people to write in the first person: to use ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘we’ and ‘us.'” (20)

Seven Reasons I Love My Kindle Fire

The thought of owning an e-reader never appealed to me. I like books. Real ones.

I prefer the feel of pages between my fingers. And I’m constantly writing notes in the margins and underlining favorite passages.

More and more, though, some books are only available as e-books.

Yes, I realize that e-books can be downloaded onto a computer, but I like to read on my couch — with book in hand.

So I bought a Kindle Fire. (The price between an iPad and the Kindle Fire made for an easy choice.)

I’ve been using the Kindle Fire for three months now, and I’m surprised at how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to it.

There are seven things I love about my Kindle Fire:

1. Having books on my Kindle Fire lessens the book clutter in my house. I’ve been collecting books for decades; thus, my books are stacked three deep on my shelves. And that’s to say nothing of the various piles of books shoved in random corners of my home. With the Kindle Fire, I’m able to buy a new book without giving up more space in my house.

2. I can read in bed at night without my cumbersome book-light. I was always fussing with unclipping and reattaching my book-light every time I turned the page. But the backlit feature of the Kindle Fire makes nighttime reading easy.

3. I can still highlight sections of the text with a simple touch-and-drag feature. Note-taking is also possible. And if a techno-challenged girl like me can figure it out, anybody can.

4. Traveling is made so much lighter without packing my usual half-dozen books along. Because you never know what mood you’ll be in for reading.

5. Having instant access to a newly purchased book is, I admit, a nice perk. I know, I know. We live in an instant-gratification-driven society. But this one side benefit is a fun little bonus.

6. An e-version is usually cheaper than a print version. With as many books as I’m interested in, saving a few dollars here and there can start to add up.

7. I can easily download and enjoy fellow bloggers’ e-books. I’m excited about supporting my blogging friends and their writing adventures.

Owning a Kindle Fire has other benefits as well — such as games, music, e-mail, movies, and the Internet.

Most of all, my e-reader has inspired me. I’m ready to write an e-book.

Do you have a favorite e-reader?
Do you have plans to write an e-book?

*I’m not an affiliate receiving any sort of commission from this post. I’m just writing about it because I genuinely like it.