Book Review (Book 3) – Favorite Folktales from Around the World

This is a continuation of the books I challenged myself to read to help my career - one a month, for year. You can read my first book review here. The book I chose for August 2011 was: Favorite Folktales from Around the World, by Jane Yolen.

Why I chose this Book:

No, this isn’t a technical book or even a business work, but I believe that being able to tell a story is at the heart of almost everything I do in my career. From explaining technology to a broad audience to getting the point of a use-case across during an architectural design review, a story is a succinct way of ensuring that the germ of an idea is passed from the speaker to the listener.

This book has a short introduction to each block of stories, gathered from cultures around the world as the title suggests. My thought was that studying stories would help me create my own.

What I learned:

Being from the South of the U.S., I grew up in a culture of storytelling. Everyone I knew told stories for just about everything, so analogies and so on come naturally to me. But I have never stopped and actually dissected a story, to find out why it worked, and why I chose a particular story or story style for a given situation.

I have a little confession here - I rarely just read the books I’m listing here on my blog without adding other references to them. I keep a dictionary handy in case I want to know the etymology of a word, since I believe word choices are important. I read other reviews on the work. And I try and find similar works to read at the same time to get a different perspective. While there are lots of anthologies of stories, I found a lack of quality work on using storytelling in the way I’m thinking. I was actually surprised at that. I only found a few books on storytelling, and most had to do with how you use a story, not how to tell or create one. It’s as if folks thing you already know how to fashion a story that will resonate, and you just need to know how to use them. Or they think you’re only telling stories to small children, but I think everyone loves a good story. Perhaps one day I’ll research this more and write my own book on how to tell a story.

The book itself is arranged in groups of types of stories, such as “magical beings”, “truths and lies”, “smart and ignorant”, “the powerful and the weak” and so on. The author gives a short (too short, in my mind - would LOVE to hear more of what she thought) introduction to the type of story, and then multiple stories on that genre followed. Some are short, others are much longer, but all deal with the same topic, which at times made for repetitive reading. Did you know, for instance, that there are probably thousands of versions of “Cinderella”? You’ll read several in this book.

As I read I learned that many stories have the same structure, that is, introduction and development of character, a “stressor” (situation or person) and a resolution. Even cultures that are comfortable with duality (like China and India) have a resolution to the story, whether positive or negative. This is interesting, because it seems a story should always be “round”, or complete. It sounds pat, or trite, but it’s just true. The main character can’t disappear from the storyline, the plot can’t change to something else entirely and so on. That, of course, deals with short stories - ones you can remember and tell again, not written, longer stories.

I’ll end this review with one of my favorite stories from the book. Most are at least a couple of pages long, but this one struck me because it’s touted as the world’s shortest horror story - and that succinctness really resonates. See if you agree:

“He awoke with a start, and reached for the lamp - and it was placed into his hand.”

Scary. Smile 

Raw Notes:

I take notes as I read, calling that process “reading with a pencil”. I find that when I do that I pay attention better, and record some things that I need to know later. I’ll take these notes, categorize them into a OneNote notebook that I synchronize in my account, and that way I can search them from anywhere. I can even read them on the web, since the has a OneNote program built in. I took a TON of notes during this reading, but I don’t think it makes sense to post them this time. There were so many, and due to the structure of the book they were so random, that I don’t think reading through them would help much past what I’ve posted in the “What I learned” section. I’ll see if the raw notes from the next work are the same or if it makes sense to add them here.

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