On one of my many forays into my parents’ room, I caught my mother rummaging through old papers. “They’re my love letters, go away!” she admonished me, when I reached out for one. And there were almost a bagful of them — enough to compile and publish, actually. But would that really qualify as telling a story? Correspondence between two individuals over a period of time — does it need to be bound traditionally, to be considered a book, or a tale? Maybe not.
Letters or diary entries make for interesting reads, and tell the story of our lives as nothing else can do — as does the world’s most popular journal, The Diary of Anne Frank. Would we have felt so much for the teenager discovering the ways of the world if someone wrote a biography instead? Learning about a life, in a person’s own words, helps develop a connection with the writer that no third person can achieve. And it tells the story straight from the horse’s mouth.
Speaking of stories, the Harry Potter series bound several tales into one. The sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had the young protagonist in possession of a second-hand potions (a subject in wizarding school, for the uninitiated) text book, in which notes were scribbled in the margins. And through those annotations, Harry got to know more about the book’s original owner (spoiler alert — it’s the Half-Blood Prince). Again, simple memos within several pages of the text he possessed, revealed to Harry that the Half-Blood Prince was a genius in the subject. Similar tales can be seen outside the wizarding world too. Cookbooks with a chef’s own ideas jotted down and academic research books with a student’s markings and comments all over reveal a lot about the possessor of the book — narratives change, and through time, the reader becomes an author and an author, a reader.
While on the topic of readers and authors, one can’t ignore the journey of EL James, whose love for Twilight had her attempt online fan fiction under a pseudonym — which grew into the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. The Internet was her page, and she drafted her own narratives, inspired by a book. Probably in a few decades, blogs and website comments could be compiled into a series — with each blog narrating a story of its own.
As I discovered, looking through my library — that included travelogues, epic tales, diaries, and even a tome of letters between the last tsar and tsarina of Russia — stories are all around us, whether bound into volumes, or unbound. And it’s not just a book that tells tales — just a few words on paper (or now, online) make for interesting stories in themselves.
And before you wonder, my mother finally agreed to bequeath her loving correspondence with my father to me so that I could publish the letters for the world to see. But only once she’s long gone and all that will remain of her story is her handwritten word.