Guest Post: Louisa From Raven Books

I think it would be fair to say that Raven Books comes close to being my favourite bookstores in Ireland:

It is our intention to provide an engaging and inclusive environment where the lives of individuals and the life of the community is enriched through learning, entertainment and imagination.

Louisa has succeeded in using Twitter and a lively blog to expand the impact of the store well beyond its fairly tiny size. Read the Raven Ramblings blog here, follow Raven books here on twitter and go into the shop and spend some money.

I asked her to submit a guest post for my blog and I think you’ll agree, she has done a fine job!


Storytelling @ Thurdays (Flickr user kodomut & cc)

I never learned from a man who agreed with me ~ Robert A Heinlein

Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse ~ Chris Hedges

I could easily be persuaded that fire was discovered so that our ancestors had a focal point to gather around to share stories. Warmth and toasted mammoth flesh have their place in life, sure, but what made those long Neanderthal evenings magical was the re-telling of the hunt, dramatised for full effect in the flame-flickering light. We are by our nature a social species, one which has drawn together in tribes big and small across the globe and across the millennia to tell our tales.  Common culture binds families, communities, societies, and the telling and re-telling of stories is of crucial importance to the health of the tribal unit at any fractal level. From the time we are infants we learn through stories the customs and mores of those we live with (dependence); we explore our boundaries through the imagination of others to better discover who we are (independence); and through fiction we are able to process difficult truths on personal and societal levels (interdependence).

What has changed dramatically since the discovery of fire is the way we experience storytelling – writing, printing, recording, radio, cinema, television, the internet – all have had their impact in altering how we
tell, absorb, and share stories. Generally in 21st century western culture we absorb a story on our own, or possibly in the predominantly silent company of others gathered around a large or small screen. For most, an essential part of processing that story is in talking about it afterwards with others – dissecting a book, film, TV show, still exploring our boundaries in adulthood as we did in childhood, adjusting (or not) as taboos are broken, traditions questioned, prejudices challenged.

For those who find themselves marginalised in their geographic community, the internet has provided an easy way for many to share and process stories with like minds, regardless of physical location.  These online connections can be of tremendous comfort and affirmation to those who might otherwise feel isolated by their interests; however with the ease of these connections, the danger can arise of solipsistic virtual societies fragmenting the cohesion of the geographic community that we all, to a greater or lesser extent, depend on.  Rather than the post-hunt discussion ’round the fire that strengthened the shared experience of the tribe, stories are now discussed online by anyone with little more than a language and an interest in common.

An added dimension of this shift to the virtual is the evolution of eReaders which has caused the boundaries of the book world to rapidly shift.  As with any upheaval, there are those who unquestioningly embrace the change, the more cautious who may or may not be swayed by what may or may not be progress, and the stalwart who believe the only valid definition of a book includes paper and ink. For all three categories, the internet has provided readers with the means to share why they have taken the stance they have, fundamentally discussing the importance of stories in their lives – is it just about the tale, regardless of the form it is presented in? Is the enjoyment of reading linked to the tactile experience? Does accessibility affect the value of a story? How has the idea of ownership changed from the time the hunter stood before his tribe, seeking immortality through his story being retold by others, to gargantuan intellectual copyright legal documents, to Google pushing publishing boundaries into an unwritten future of who can read what and where and when?

Me, I’m still drawn to the fire, curled up with a secondhand paperback. If I’m lucky, it might even contain treasures from its previous reader – train tickets, shopping lists, a pressed flower, postcards, photographs, a scribbled maths formula; I’ve even found a love letter though, judging by the date, both the writer and recipient were long gone from this earth. Or was the letter never sent and put in the book for safekeeping? This is one of the many reasons why I love secondhand books because right there, before I’ve even read a word of it, I have the whispers of a story waiting to be told.


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