In this spiritual sequel to his influential Reading for the Plot, Peter Brooks examines the dangerously alluring power of storytelling.
“There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can defeat it.” So begins the scholar and literary critic Peter Brooks’s reckoning with today’s flourishing cult of story.
Forty years after publishing his seminal work Reading for the Plot, his important contribution to what came to be known as the “narrative turn” in contemporary criticism and philosophy, Brooks returns to question the unquestioning fashion in which story is now embraced as an excuse or explanation and the fact that every brand or politician comes equipped with one.
In a discussion that ranges from The Girl on the Train to legal argument, Brooks reminds us that among the powers of narrative is the power to deceive.
Brooks, a comparative literature professor at Yale, provides a bracing and insightful look at the downsides of reducing everything to storytelling in this follow-up to 1984's Reading for the Plot. While Brooks still believes that "our lives are ceaselessly intertwined with narrative," he warns thats storytelling has evolved—"Narrative seems to have become accepted as the only form of knowledge and speech that regulates human affairs," he writes. To support that thesis, Brooks cites examples ranging from the "backstories" on personal care product packaging to the way George W. Bush described his cabinet choices in 2000 as each having "their own story." To Brooks, the reduction of everything to narrative improperly dismisses other vital forms of "presentation and understanding," including lyrics and logical arguments. Despite fascinating references to Sherlock Holmes, The Girl on the Train, and Miller beer ads, not all sections are lay-reader friendly, as Brooks lapses into the academic ("I don't think it is pedantic to urge that a fundamental distinction advanced by the Russian Formalists remains crucial to any serious discussion of narrative: the distinction between fabula and sjuzhet"). However, readers who stay the course will find this is a thoughtful and revelatory analysis of what's lost when story trumps all.