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The Truth About Stories by Thomas King (thoughts)

December 16, 2013

The Truth About Stories by Thomas King
Honestly, this is my internal monologue re: The Truth About Stories:

OMG, I heart Thomas King so, so much. I thought I couldn’t love him anymore! But now I do! So much truth telling and pathos and god damned awesomeness! But why wasn’t it three times as long?! I lurved it so much I never wanted it to end!

Ahem. But that isn’t quite the proper blogging form, is it? ;)

Thomas King is a Native American author, dual citizen of the US and Canada, and all-around incredible writer. I’ve read four of his novels and loved them all; his mastery of different styles reminds me of Neil Gaiman. The Truth About Stories is an essay collection in which King meditates on narratives, perceptions of Native Americans, and the deep power stories hold. Sadly, I had to ILL my copy, which means I had to return it ages ago and thus don’t have it next to me to refer to as I write this post. But here’s a taste:

Did you ever wonder how it is we imagine the world the way we do, how it is we imagine ourselves, if not through our stories. And in the English-speaking world, nothing could be easier, for we are surrounded by stories, and we can trace those stories back to other stories and from there back to the beginnings of language. For these are our stories, the cornerstones of our culture.

Part of what makes this book work so well is that King shows as much as he tells. Each chapter begins with the same story, told in a slightly different way by an oral story teller to a slightly different audience: watching it morph while reading the same basic thing several times was a wonderful way to feel the difference between oral and written stories. And each chapter ends with the same line, which gains power at each repetition:

Just don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story.
You’ve heard it now.

By the end, it was giving me goosebumps. Meanwhile, King looks at the dysfunctional relationship white North Americans have had with Native Americans in a way that is loving but doesn’t shy away from the hard, racist truths. He manages to analyse white privilege without alienating white readers, and thus I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone, regardless of their previous awareness of race and privilege. He uses the same gift he has in fiction, to present a truth that transcends differences and unites with the reader while never losing touch with the specificities of individual humans and the societies they live in, but this time in nonfiction.

I’m aware I’m speaking in almost uselessly general sentences. But The Truth About Stories is the kind of book that deserves to be read and reread: not for its own sake but for the reader’s. I adored it, as much for the moments it made me sob as those that made laugh, and just writing this post makes me want to read it again. Clearly, I need to buy a copy for myself, since my library doesn’t have an easily accessible one. And anyone who loves stories enough to read a book blog should go read this too, as quickly as they can get their hands on a copy.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2013 9:33 am

    This sounds like a book I’ve been waiting for all my life (while speaking prose).

    • December 17, 2013 7:23 am

      I hope you love it as much as I did!

  2. December 16, 2013 10:02 am

    This is the second time in the last couple of days that I’ve heard great things about this book. I will have to look into it. I love your enthusiasm about this book!

    • December 17, 2013 7:39 am

      Thnx Naomi! I hope you get a copy to read. :)

  3. December 16, 2013 10:04 am

    Oh, Eva, I so, so agree. Thomas King is something wonderful. And this is a spectacular read.

    • December 17, 2013 7:23 am

      I always associate him with you & your generous box of Canadian books. :D

  4. December 16, 2013 11:28 am

    I am trying to figure out how I missed this book. I normally buy all his books! I will have to remedy that!

    • December 17, 2013 7:26 am

      This was based a lecture series he did; maybe that’s why you hadn’t heard about it? I’ve read 2 or 3 of that series now (it’s a Canadian one…the name’s escaping me) and loved them (Atwood’s Payback is incredible), so I think I’ll start tracking them down more systematically in the future.

  5. December 16, 2013 8:59 pm

    Ana mentioned this in a recent post, and now you, so of course I have to get it! I’m going to have to ILL it too, I think, as my library (grrrr) doesn’t seem to own it. It sounds perfect. I love Thomas King and I love thinking about how stories impact the way we perceive the world.

  6. December 17, 2013 7:06 am

    This sounds beyond awesome! And coupled with your overwhelming enthusiasm, well, who could resist, right? Sadly, our library doesn’t have it. So I tried to go to Better World Books to see if they might have a copy, but I can’t seem to get there–not sure what’s going on with their site. :( Anyway, the library does have his Truth & Bright Water, which sounds really good. Have you read it? The only other one the library system seems to have is a children’s book by him, which I also think I’ll check out sometime.

    • December 17, 2013 7:24 am

      I have! It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story, definitely read it. If I remember it broke my heart a little though, but then that happens with so many of my favourite books.

  7. December 20, 2013 11:31 am

    I agree absolutely. Have you read his Inconvenient Indian? It’s his take on North American Indian history. I loved it, too, but for me Truth had more emotion power since it is about stories. My favorite of his is still Green Grass and Running Water.

  8. aartichapati permalink
    December 23, 2013 7:24 pm

    I want to read this! I too am a big Thomas King fan. I love how he melds humor and outrage to fantastic effect. Will definitely be looking into this book!

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