A Feast of "Air and Stories"

Because of Maggie's previous post, I decided to take a chance and go to massmouth's Storytelling Festival last Saturday at the Boston Public Library. Well, maybe "chance" is the wrong word. I have long been a fan of the "idea" of storytelling. I decided to fulfill a dream, perhaps?  

Since I was a child, I have always feasted on stories. I know that I am not alone in this--certainly not in a program like ours. When many of us think of stories, though, we often think of books. Certainly I do. Yet, the raconteurs of my childhood were my father and my grandfather, who delighted in inventing tales that thrilled and terrified. It wasn't until I grew older and learned to read on my own that my stories transformed into printed words narrated by a voice in my head (he's quite good but, unfortunately, you'll never get to hear him). Now I'm trying audiobooks. But nothing quite replaces the physical presence of a storyteller.

Results of a survey released in September of 2013 revealed that the bedtime story is on the decline. Only 13% of the survey's respondents read a story to their children every night, while 75% recalled being read to every night when they were kids. In an age where television can transfix the mind, it seems only natural that book stories might have to fight a little harder for attention. The interaction is quiet, save for a few page turns and the voice(s) in the reader's head (at least in my experience). But storytelling is different. Storytelling is interactive. Storytelling is immersive. Storytelling can transfix, too.

One of my professors, a former youth services librarian, remarked what a shame it is that library science programs don't really require storytelling courses anymore. While I can understand why (tuition costs, numerous other graduation requirements, etc.), it still makes me sad. Oral storytelling seems to have a lasting power that books don't. I still remember these magic words Norah Dooley used in her telling of an Italian folktale at the Festival: "Ari-Ari, Donkey, Donkey, Money, Money!" Admittedly, I remember her story better than many of the books I've read for classes. Even with books I love enough to share with another person, my own telling of it is the one that I remember best. I wonder why that is. I guess there's just something about spoken words that lasts even though they're basically gone once they're uttered.

Massmouth's catchphrase is "Because you have a life, you have a story. Bring it." To that I might add that, if you have a story, tell it. We all need a good story in some way or another. As the quote falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis goes, "We read to know that we are not alone." Maybe we watch to know that we are not alone, too. But we can also listen to know that we are not alone.  And maybe, if we listen, we won't really be alone after all.

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