Everyday Stories

Adrienne made a comment on one of my recent posts about the sad dearth of ordinary stories about ordinary people – the likes of which were written by LM Montgomery, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, etc. Considering that I just recently wrote on how important fantasy is, it might seem odd that I now turn around in defense of “ordinary tales,” but I truly do believe both are vital.

Fantasy can help to expand us, help us see beyond ourselves to the possibilities that exist in our dreams and imagination. Everyday stories, I think, help to ground us, and to show us the beauty and joy that comes from just living, just as we are now. Both, in their own way, show us the magic that exists all around us.

I can’t imagine growing up without Anne Shirley, Betsy Ray, Garnet of the wheat-colored braids, and as I grew older, Rilla, Lizzy Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Molly Gibson. Et cetera, et cetera.

There’s a big emphasis I see these days in people thinking that one has to already be special in order to do or accomplish anything special, or have a worthwhile life (running contradictory to the other popular idea, which is that “everyone is special,” and which also produces laziness, but that’s a topic for another time). There was a lot that I disliked in the recent movie version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but one of the things that drove me nuts the most was a tiny little throwaway line from Reepicheep, where he tells the dragon-that-was-Eustace,

“Things like this don’t happen to just anybody, you know. You’ve got to be someone extraordinary.”

(Or something like that. I don’t remember the exact quote.)

It made me want to scream, right there in the theater, because that’s not true and it’s not how Lewis wrote Eustace. I hate that we seem to be living in a time that believes you have to be born “different,” somehow, for your life to have meaning. And right now, in MG and YA lit, that “different” usually does equal mystical or supernatural.

And that, I think, it a dreadful use of the fantasy genre. I would much rather read about Anne Shirley, overcoming an incredibly difficult and mundane birth and early life to live a life of simple grace, love, and beauty (one of my all-time favorite quotes ever is from Anne of Avonlea (or is it Anne of the Island?), where she tells Gilbert her life’s goal is to add beauty to the world and people’s lives, that they might have some joy or hope that they wouldn’t have had otherwise), then about what’s-her-name from the book whose title is synonymous with dusk, who whines and mopes and finally becomes a bloodsucker in truth as well as metaphorically. What’s inspirational about that, again?

And I think it will be a true shame if this generation grows up only reading books that reinforce the idea that it takes something supernatural to make you special, that you can’t live a meaningful or exciting life if you don’t have fangs or wings or both.

Life – just as it is, in reality – is both beautiful and exciting, and always meaningful, if we are just willing to look hard and work at it. We can’t just sit back and allow life to pass us by because “we weren’t born special.” We don’t need a prophecy told about us at birth to enable us to achieve great things.

Everyday stories, about every people living everyday lives, can be just as inspirational, and for me, at least, have been an enormous help in finding joy in life just as it is, just as fantasy helps me seek even deeper into the beauty and wonder of life.

Do you like reading “everyday stories”? What books can you think of, about ordinary people and ordinary life, have helped you develop and grow as a human being? Can you think of some recent titles in YA that are those sort of everyday stories? I’m drawing a blank, myself!

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8 thoughts on “Everyday Stories

  1. I love both kinds of stories, just as I like many different kinds of fiction (YA, literary, etc.). I like fantasy because there are times and things I learned there that I don't in "ordinary" fiction. But the reverse is true too. I appreciate ordinary fiction and the triumph of people just like me–there are no small lives. To restrict one type literature seems to diminish what I can gain from the whole.

  2. You make such a great point here about the importance of everyday stories. I don't read much YA literature these days, but grew up alternately wanting to be Anne Shirley, Jo March, and Little House Laura. My favorite everyday stories of late are the Alexander McCall Smith books, all of which glorify the simple lives of extraordinarily ordinary characters.(And thanks for confirming that I'm not the only person who wasn't a fan of the synonym-for-dusk series.)

  3. I think this is a very good point, and I think it's one of the primary reasons I love well-written mysteries, because often the people involved (and the detectives, typically) are very normal people caught up in something much bigger than they are. think of Miss Marple, for example, and the small-town murders she investigates. some recent YA books i have read in the "everyday" vein are Paper Towns (John Green), Will Grayson Will Grayson (ditto), Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta), and Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have (Allen Zadoff).I'm planning to read The Help soon (Kathryn Stockett) which also sounds along this line though not YA.

  4. I'm soooo glad you wrote this. I typically write fantasy, but I've twice written "ordinary" stories. One of which I am publishing this month. I think we need ordinary lives to show how beautiful and special LIFE is, with living and friendship and day-after-day. Not that you don't get some of that in fantasy, or that you can't create ordinary characters in fantasy settings–but sometimes going back to just…everything you said here can be so nice.

  5. I usually say I don't care for straight realism, but that's not entirely true. I DO love realism when it's funny, and am far more likely to read it if it's got some sort of quirky element like that. One of my favorite current realistic fiction writers is Lisa Yee, who is definitely funny, although often of the painful-funny variety (but in a good way!) She really gets to the heart of what it feels like to be a kid. Her Warp Speed is probably my favorite realistic fiction book I've read this year so far.

  6. "It's not how Lewis wrote Eustace"Somehow it doesn't sound like something Reepicheep would say, either.It's been a long time since I read Anne of Green Gables, but I remember that Anne was sort of described as 'born special', although not with magical powers. But I agree about Betsy Ray and Lizzy Bennet. Their 'ordinariness' is why they are so charming.

  7. Connie – I agree, we need all types of literature. If we only ever stick to reading one kind, we end up lopsided, or at least with a lopsided view of life!Kristen – oh yes, Jo, and Laura and all the rest! They were all such GOOD friends to me in my younger days (and even now!).Beautifulmonday – you are always an inspiration to me, because you have such a varied diet of books, and you always give me new titles to check out, usually in genres I wouldn't normally choose myself. (And I too love mysteries where the people just get caught up in events, and we get to see their true character shine through the chaos.)Laura – like I said, I can't wait to read your book! It sounds like just the sort of thing I've been talking about here.Rockinlibrarian – Oh yes, humor is always such an important quality to books, isn't it? And to life, for that matter. I've always said that the day I lose my sense of humor is the day you might as well bury me.Bkswthlks – No, it wasn't something Reep would say, though I think my specific outrage was over the fact that Eustace was painfully ordinary, caught up in something bigger than himself which changed him irrevocably. Pretty much the opposite of what was implied in the film. As for Anne, she was special, but her specialness came from an abundance of imagination and love for beauty – all qualities anyone could (and should, in my opinion!) strive toward.

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