Fahrenheit 451 and the importance of oral storytelling and memory keeping
In Fahrenheit 451, Toronto Public Library's Keep Toronto Reading Festival 2013 book selection, books are burned, history is re-written, memories are lost and re-invented, screen families replace real families and nobody talks to anyone. There are no stories in the society Ray Bradbury has invented.
When Montag escapes from the city he begins to regain a connection with nature, with other people, and with stories. He meets the book people. "...bums on the outside, libraries inside". They memorize, or 'become' a book, and travel the country, bringing the stories and knowledge back to the world. "We'll pass the books on to our children, by word of mouth, and let our children wait, in turn, on the other people."
In order to live and thrive, stories need to be told, shared, imagined, cherished and passed on to family and community.
Storytelling can be many things to many people. Oral traditions keep stories and cultural knowledge alive. Family stories and family narrative connect us to our personal heritage and help us live our lives.
In recent years, family memory keeping, storytelling, and oral history have had a resurgence.
Family stories are now being shared on radio and online. The Moth ("True Stories Told Live") was started in a living room in New York in 1997 and has become hugely popular, with live storytelling, podcasts and a weekly radio program on NPR.
A study conducted by Dr. Marshall Duke at the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life found that families that share a family narrative increase their children's resilience in the face of obstacles and challenges.
Why all this interest in sharing personal stories and memories? Do people need to re-connect, in an age of social media where there is very little actual face to face contact? Are many of us, as aging boomers, more conscious of the need to preserve our memories and those of our parents and grandparents? Are newcomers concerned about losing their traditions and cultural history?
In Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century, Canada's best-known storyteller Dan Yashinsky looks at these new trends and the place of storytelling in today's world.
Collecting family stories, by recording or writing them, means that even when the family memory keepers are no longer with us, the stories will be preserved.
My mother, who grew up in Poland during the Second World War, used to tell us stories of her girlhood and wartime experiences. Now that her memory is fading, she has lost many of those stories, but they enriched and informed my life.
From the recitations of the book people in Fahrenheit 451, to family dinner table storytelling to podcasts and radio shows, people have a universal desire to share stories and preserve memories.
Today, Toronto is a city of many nationalities and many stories. For an opportunity to hear some of Toronto's storykeepers, join host Dan Yashinsky and guest storytellers at the library on April 4 and April 22.
To whet your appetite, here's Dan Yashinsky telling a story about his bubbie.