It’s the time of the year to be grateful. Grateful for what we have in life. Grateful for communities like From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors. Grateful even though life sometimes throws us curveballs.
Life does throw us curveballs. Sometimes we hit the ball, most of the time we miss. Life also has been known to lob a ball right down the fat part of the plate allowing us to take one heck of a swing. Sometimes we drive those for base hits; other times we knock the ball out of the park. Life provides unexpected opportunities.
Recently, while listening to the fantastic three-part episode on The Little Mermaid from Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast, Revisionist History, life lobbed a pitch that floated across the strike zone as big as a beach ball.
In Episode 2 of the Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell talks to Angus Fletcher, a literature professor at the Ohio State University’s Project Narrative. Dr. Fletcher talks about fairy tales and what makes the oldest of the fairy tale twist stories work for kids while the poetic justice fairy tale stories and their modern “Disney-fied tales really don’t resonate with them.
After listening to Dr. Fletcher’s interview, two things jump out.
- Angus Fletcher is a neuroscientist turned English professor.
- He has just released a book called, Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.
Wait! A literature professor with a background in brain science wrote a book about 25 ground-breaking literary inventions?
Count me in!
So I bought the book. I started reading the book. I knew immediately I needed to share this book with my MUF friends and family.
The format of Wonderworks is well designed. Each literary invention is a chapter. It starts with a literary history and a background as existed at the time of the invention. The literary invention is introduced by an author or philosopher in their creative work with an explanation of why the invention worked. Examples are often provided highlighting the use of the invention by different authors.
The kicker, the hook, the thing about this book that reels me in is the section of each chapter where Dr. Fletcher delves into the brain science, the neurology and neurochemistry behind how and why the literary invention works for the reader. Shots of dopamine. Left brain/Right brain interactions, the HPA Axis (Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, and Adrenal gland), the balance between the amygdala vs the prefrontal cortex. So much awesome, I’m in reader/writer/scientist heaven!
As a scientist/STEM-enthusiast and writer, this connection is what earns Wonderworks a place on the top shelf of my writing resource books. Absolutely fascinating to read a book about the effect literature has on the brain.
Confession time. I fully expected to be completely through Wonderworks by the time this post was due.
I’m not. But there’s a great reason why.
Each chapter is so intriguing and packed with information, I find myself needing to work slowly through each of the literary inventions. I find myself seeking out the works mentioned as examples. Some of these books I have on my own shelves. Some I find online, while others I’ve found in my local library. I’ve landed on the Project Narrative website at Ohio State seeking more story knowledge and have downloaded academic papers from the participating faculty. Talk about going down the rabbit hole! Each invention listed in Wonderworks has sprouted many paths to investigate, directions to discover, and mysteries to seek out.
Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! Enjoy the process. Create like the world needs your work because the world needs your work. Be grateful and celebrate the power of words. If you get time, I recommend Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.
The story of story, it turns out, is a fascinating story.