In a variety of interactions I’ve had with teens in the library I have heard almost word-for-word the same response that I’m sure many have heard before. When asking teens in a program what they enjoyed about a book they were required to read for school or, in readers’ advisory interviews, when asking what they enjoyed about the last book they picked out on their own, I often hear the exact same answer: “it had a good story.”
There could be any number of underlying meanings behind “it had a good story” and often I have to tease out what exactly this means to the person saying it. The “good story” could be tightly plotted or action oriented; it could be that the story was “good” because themes or characters spoke to the reader; the story could be “good” because it was unpredictable or “good” because the reader could easily follow what was happening; it could be “good” because the book offered the reader something that, at the time of reading it, was exactly what the reader needed or wanted. There could be thousands of reason why any one person would describe their enjoyment of a book as resting in its “good story.” But what it is about a story that seems to capture so many of us?
Each month I host a “teens read” club. We don’t read any one particular book together and, although we have a core group of dedicated members, the attendees are constantly changing and represent a diversity of ages and reading abilities. I bring several books that I’ve read recently to booktalk throughout the club, to draw people into joining us, to break the ice a little, and to bring us back whenever we’re getting terribly off track. Although I encourage our members to talk about traditional reading (like books or magazines), I also try to help teens make connections between a variety of texts (including films, television shows, video games, cartoons); ultimately any artistic production that requires “reading” in some sense is fair game. What I have noticed in this program more than any other is that the students talk about and tell stories. One moment they may be describing what they like about a particular book or movie and the basic plot and then they’ll be launching into a story about what happened in math class today, in how they tricked their brother into giving them the last of the ice cream, or about the time they used their older sibling’s passport as ID to get a tattoo. Whether they are sharing someone else’s or their own story or whether they are hearing about a new book or a story from someone’s life, these teens have a really good time and this program is always popular. Again, what is it about a story that captures our imagination and what is it that stories do for us?
Although many might assume that stories are fictional, the example I give above points out that stories are often autobiographical and/or about a true event. That stories can describe events that have happened only in the imagination of the creators as well as detail the factual...