If you haven’t already, head back and read Assignment 4: Interviews, but not as we know them… Part 1
What does literature mean to you?
“Books are humanity in print.“
– Barbara W. Tuchman
Everything that we are is at some point or another written down and stored in a solidified form. Words are the breath of the world’s people and therefore an extremely valuable life-force, but do we value them? Do we value our literature? Our stories? Our words?
I always have. I communicate best within the written word. When I try to speak I always feel that I can’t get my point across in the way that I want to, but when I write it I can. The medium is for everybody, for anybody and it speaks to and for all of us.
“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
Books are in themselves quiet and reserved. They sit where they are placed and do not scream or shout at us to pay attention to them. We choose which ones we want to give our attention to and for a couple of hours a day we can immerse ourselves so completely into somebody else’s thoughts and dreams. I think the whole storytelling world is beautiful and the for me it is best thing in on earth.
Of course, that is just what I think. I want to know what you think.
I have interviewed a selection of members from the Esk Valley Rotary group, to see what literature means to them.
(yup, that is my mum in the elf costume!)
My first interviewee was: Mark – Male – 40s – British – Director: Asset Fiance Scotland LTD.
I started each person off by asking them to draw me their favorite word, without telling me what it was so I could try and guess it while they drew (a little bit like Pictionary). I wanted to see how people illustrated their words, and gain a little insight into how we visualize written words.
Mark chose the word Fantastic. The first thing he drew was the happy face, so I presumed the emotion was happy and immediately guessed at that word. He then drew the marks surrounding the face, which he told me were to emphasize that yes, the face was happy but it was a more powerful word than that. A couple of happy words later, and we got to fantastic. To him the word was audibly pleasing, but he chose it because the feeling was most attractive to him, more than the word itself.
Following on from that little bit of illustration, I asked Mark where he though the value of storytelling sat in our modern world.
Mark connected the skill of storytelling to his job to explain to me how, from his perspective, by telling stories he is able to further sales; “it’s always good to give examples to customers, because they can then relate it to something in their lives.” So, storytelling becomes a way of making a connection with people, and establishing associations within their worlds to increase the impact of what you are trying to tell them. Although Mark uses the phrase “factual storytelling” it is still the root of the storytelling skill that he is describing.
I then asked my main question. The one driving me to conduct these interviews: What does literature mean to you?
He instantly wrote this down:
This is his favorite form of literature and it is most important to him, he prefers real-life non-fiction and biographies to fictional storytelling. There is something captivating about reading people’s life stories that inspires Mark. Fantasy or fiction is not on his radar, the stories that Mark reads have to be believable and if not true life accounts then based on something that actually happened. Mark has never seen Star Wars. Historical novels and factual stories are not something I am overly familiar with, so Mark told me what literature he was into at the moment. Reading about serial killers and Hitler and accounts of their lives were of interest him to because he constantly questioned why? Why people did things? It was the psychosis around people like this that drove his intellectual curiosity. He told me that he wasn’t overly interested in modern history, he reads the newspaper, but prefers to escape back in time.
My next question was experimental. I am a creative and I work with images and design ideas all the time, so I wanted to see what somebody, who wasn’t familiar with these types of exercise, would come up with. I asked Mark to think about everything we had just talked about, and design and draw a piece of jewellery based on what literature meant to him.
Mark doesn’t consider himself as creative or artistic in anyway and told me that he didn’t think he had a great imagination, which is why he stuck to history and delved into things that had actually happened as a basis for his literary release. He found this questions quite difficult, and drew “the basics” of what jewellery was to him. He described the necklace as a tag, and the armband as a Celtic band that he had always wanted to due to his Scottish heritage. Although, Mark may consider himself as uncreative, he was able to draw this image for me and relate it back to what we had talked about with a superlative amount of creativity.
To finish this interview with Mark, I asked him, since we had been taking about history and the past, where he would like to see the future of storytelling and how he would like to see it develop. Mark explained that he does see the need for storytelling to exist in the future, because it “stimulates the imagination and people do need to have dreams” and storytelling is a huge part of that, they are interconnected. “People do need dreams to succeed in life.”
Mark described for me in one sentence why storytelling was important for the future of humanity:
“Believe and you will succeed.”
My second interviewee was: Anonymous – Female – 50s – Scottish – Physiotherapist
Like Mark, Gil was also suprised when I asked her to draw me her favorite word.
Anonymous picked the word Happiness. She told me that she has always loved the sound of this word.
With a now happy mood, I asked Anonymous how storytelling is valued in our modern world.
Anonymous took a while to think about whether or not there was a value to storytelling in our current society and concluded that she thought storytelling is highly valued and should be in our culture. “Storytelling can be how you communicate with other people, it’s how you learn about other people, it can be about how things happen, it’s how we interact, storytelling can be jokes, storytelling is almost what your life is about.” Anonymous sees it as more than just a means of communication but an integral part of our human lives.
And then came my integral part of this interview: what does literature mean to you?
Anonymous described her tastes in literature as quite varied and mixed, she reads a lot of historical and detective novels but apart from that has no real favorite genres. She reads a lot more fiction than non-fiction.
Anonymous bulletpointed some answers about what her literature meant to her:
The main point she stressed was escapism and an exploration of the world of fantasy. Anonymous doesn’t write much, but finds reading extremely enjoyable and believes that without enjoyment literature wouldn’t be what it is today. Relating to the first question, Anonymous described that we can find out a lot about people and our world from literature; cultural backgrounds, history, psychology, and everything else that is encompassed within and outside of our world. Anonymous regards people with different levels of education view literature in separate ways and those who are more educated would consider literature extremely important whereas those who are less educated perhaps don’t value it as much. We talked a little bit about what literature is classed as and Anonymous separated reading for pleasure and what is enjoyable to her and literature based research and the forms in which she was presented at within a work based environment; although regarding them as literature she didn’t value them as greatly as what she was entertained by.
I asked Anonymous to think about everything we had just talked about, and design and draw a piece of jewellery based on what literature meant to her.
We talked about jewellery being anything and sitting awkwardly on the body, and things being more decorative than actually functional. The theme of offsetting jewellery appealed to Anonymous because it emphasized the meaning of a piece of jewellery and exaggerated the meaning of the specific literature, ie. if the jewellery was awkward to wear and striking then the whole meaning of the piece would make the viewer or wearer more aware of what the work was about.
I asked Anonymous one last quick question: if there was one book/story/poem/tweet/etc. that she though the whole world should read, what would it be? One More Day by Mitch Album
My third interviewee was: Jim – Male – 50s – Scottish – Retired Civil Engineer
Jim’s favorite word was Happy. He tapped into the emotions beyond the actual word and found that it was those feelings that allowed him to choose the word.
Thinking happy thoughts, I asked Jim how valued he thought storytelling is within our world today.
He initially answered me with a scale, 1 being no value and 10 being infinite value and gave storytelling an 8. Jim didn’t see a class divide when it comes to storytelling nor any changes when it comes to gender but he thinks age is an important factor when looking at your storytelling skills. Jim went on to say that because present day storytelling is very much influenced by the computer, the opportunities to be sitting within the company of people who tell stories is limited. Also, he believes as storytelling is something that you learn rather than something you can be taught, the computer can be distracting from teaching children today the various social skills that they miss out on. Jim does value the internet due to it’s vast amount of information and it is “so powerful that I can’t describe how powerful it is” yet Jim see’s actual computers as being distracting from life due to the appealingness of “timewasters”, ie. games, facebook, etc. and takes away the skills gained by just interacting with people, the only way to get better at talking to people is to converse with people.
And now the core of my interview: what does literature mean to you?
Jim found this question really difficult to answer at first because he doesn’t read, and considers this a fault because he judges reading to be valuable and he thinks he hasn’t passed on a love for reading to his sons. He reads the occasional newspaper and when studying at work he “speed reads” and researches information through reading but doesn’t ever sit down with a story and therefore doesn’t view himself as a reader. Jim views the classics (Shakespeare, Frankenstein, Jane Austen, etc.) as an extremely important part of culture and does have an interest in them, but with the rise of the internet believes that there may soon be a disconnection with such works. I mentioned ebooks and kindles and although Jim commented on their place in society suggested that “it’s just not the same thing” which I have to agree with: flicking through the pages of a book is so much more satisfying than sliding your fingers across a screen yet in terms of access ebooks are fantastic. One phrase Jim said really stood out for me: “Literature is a backbone and it is important not to lose sight of that” and he goes onto say that there are centuries of knowledge, skills, ability that we are now able to access and we should also never lose site of.
I asked Jim to think about everything we had just talked about, and I asked him to design and draw a piece of jewellery based on what literature meant to him.
This question phased him quite a lot. Jim was unsure of what to put at all. So I explained it in a way that made sense to me, in the hope that he would understand it more. I explained about a piece of jewellery that I had designed based on a poem I really liked and asked him again as new question: could you design a piece of jewellery based on a poem, a song, a story, etc. that he liked. As soon as I said song, he got it. I could see something click and he started to scribble away on my drawing.
Music for Jim, starts with the heart “you hear a piece of music that really gets you” and he began to draw something around the heart that represented music. We talked about music and poetry/novels/stories/etc. having the same effect on people, and being something really powerful that takes hold of us. While Jim couldn’t think of anything when I asked him what literature meant to him, as soon as we started talking about music I could see the passion within him and he began to talk more freely and answer my questions with ease. He connected and identified with my questions when we spoke about music.
This made my final question much easier for him to answer. I skipped the poetry and the books and asked him if there was one piece of music or song that he thought everybody in the world should hear what would it be.
Jim told be he likes classical music and opera. He describes his love for music as something just grabs him “it’s a wonderful thing, you don’t know why it happens but it’s just wonderful” and music affects him so greatly. His initial and instant answer was to listen to a Verdi opera. It was something so powerful to him that he would love to share with the world.
My fourth interviewee was: Anonymous 2 – Female – 40s – UK – Civil Servant
Anonymous 2’s favorite word was Sunshine. Which I guessed in my first go! Obviously the symbolism within the sun makes it a useful illustrative tool. Anonymous 2 explained that when the sun is warm and shining she always felt so much happier and that her love for sunshine had little to do with the actual word itself.
I asked Anonymous 2 how valued she thought storytelling was in our everyday lives, she told me she thought it was extremely important within our lives but she wasn’t sure how valued it is. Anonymous 2 suggested that although she thinks there is a need for storytelling she thought that in some asepcts of our society it might not be most prevalent.
I asked her my favorite question: what does literature mean to you?
Anonymous 2 talked a lot about escapism and how getting away from the real world, she saw the basic meaning of literature as something this is “physically written down” and couldn’t see speaking within the everyday as a piece of literature. We spoke about twitter and blogging as a great medium for literature, although perhaps not the all the content can be seen as great literary endeavors but more a tool in which storytelling can me shared.
I asked Anonymous 2 to think about everything we had just talked about, and to design and draw a piece of jewellery based on what literature meant to her.
Anonymous 2 explained to me,while she was drawing, that literature always begins within her heart and she would want a piece of jewellery to emphasize the heart, and when a piece of literature really grasped her imagination it traveled throughout her soul and wound itself around her body, touching every part of her. I immediately conjured up an image of glowing wire spiraling around a body, extending from the beating heart. For me, this description from Anonymous 2 was really beautiful and a little eerie because the brooch that I have designed has a similar feel to it, as a brooch piece it is pinned to the heart and it has waves of metal extending around the curves of the body; so for Anonymous 2 (not knowing about my design) to pick up on this was really exciting for me.
I told Anonymous 2 about the jewellery I was creating and hearing her animated and energized comments about the prospects within my piece really induced a new outbreak of passion for my work.
I asked Anonymous 2 if there was one book/story/poem/tweet/etc. that she though the whole world should read, what would it be? Wordsworth’s “A Farewell“
My fifth interviewee was: Clare – Female – 30s – British – Bank Clerk
Clare’s favorite word is bum. We had a good giggle over this one, Clare explained to me that she loved the cheeky quality of this word and regardless of the situation of whoever said it, the word “bum” always makes people smile and that’s why it is her ultimate favorite word.
I asked Clare how valued she thought storytelling was in our everyday lives, this is what she wrote for me:
Clare explained the she had always viewed literature as something boring that was forced on her at school and that when she though of literature she imagined stuffy old men sweating over crumpled pieces of paper. I talked a little about my passion for literature and suggested it was a form of storytelling, and everything in the written word could be considered as literature and she agreed that reading and writing is a of great value to her but when I talked about literature it didn’t connect with anything in her life.
Clare designed for me a piece of jewellery based on what literature meant to her:
The drawing is exactly what Clare had written down about what literature meant to her.
I asked Clare one last question, if there was one book/story/poem/tweet/etc. that she though the whole world should read, what would it be? Trainspotting, the book by Irvine Welsh, not the film with “that sexy Scottish bloke in it.”
My last interviewee was: Douglas – Male – 50s – Scottish – Solicitor
Douglas’s favorite word is Satisfaction. Douglas took a little while to decided whether he wanted to pick a word that meant something to him, and gave him a good feeling or if he just wanted to pick a word that sounded nice. In the end he chose one that gave him a good feeling and just as Douglas’s drawing describes, his love for the word comes from the feeling of satisfaction over the actual word itself, “if your satisfied in life,with what you’ve done or what you’ve experienced, that’s a good state of mind to be in.”
I asked Douglas how valued he thought storytelling was in our culture and society. His initial response was to say that “it is greatly undervalued” and that storytelling to children, especially young children is “vitally important”. Being surrounded by educators, his wife and three of his children are teachers, Douglas knows how children are able to develop speech and language much quicker, and find it easier to grasp at their own educations. Douglas defined storytelling as something that “paints a picture in your mind” and considers anything that develops the imagination to be fundamental to life and an important part of human development. Douglas described a good storyteller as somebody who “conjures up images in your imagaination” and because of this thinks that a massive part of storytelling is the visual side part of it and the images that words can produce. For me, this is a great point to touch upon because as an artist I work with visuals and within my current project I am trying to translate words into images, so hearing that somebody thinks that it is a huge part of storytelling is of great interest and value to my work.
I asked Douglas my pivotal question of what does literature mean to him.
He concisely wrote down theses three bulletpoints:
Douglas told me that the kind of literature that engages his interest are historical novels, sports biographies and travel books. He also reads a lot for his work, researching for information and an increase of education; but this form of literature isn’t fun for him and he does not see it as reading for pleasure.
I mentioned that Douglas had beautiful handwriting, and asked him if he still hand wrote letters. He told me that he always makes a point of handwriting his Christmas cards, not just signing it but adding a handwritten message within it and making it more personal. Although he views instant digital ways of communicating have a place within the world, he values the handwritten letter and would love to see an uprising in handwritten letters.
Douglas designed for me a piece of jewellery based on what literature meant to him:
Douglas didn’t consider himself as a creative person and found it quite difficult to come up with something. We talked it through and he related his drawing back to a Pandora bracelet that he bought for his wife. He described it as the different beads of a Pandora bracelet could represent different aspects of literature or different stories that inspire people.
Words mean something different to each person. When I asked about each individuals favorite word, they all gave me words that made them feel positive and attached a happy feeling to the word. So the words became more about how the person actually felt than the sound or the aesthetic of the word itself. In the objects (in this analogy imagine that words are objects!) that we keep close to us, it is the story or the emotions attached to the object that make the thing special to us and we attach meaning to the object beyond what it actually is. And from these interviews, I can see that we do the same thing with words.
Everybody has different tastes and everybody is into different kinds of literature and different kinds of storytelling. What appeals to one doesn’t necessarily appeal to another, but from these interviews it is clear that regardless of what appeals to a person, words make them feel something. Whether that is Jim’s intense passion for music, Mark’s love of historical novels or Clare’s disinterest with the world of literature it is a powerful enough force to have an affect on each person. The general consensus is that literature is a positive thing and it should be highly valued, even if it isn’t in our society. Storytelling and literature helps people connect, learn and engage in the world surrounding them; it helps us understand our world. It is also an escape from our world, a delve into something unfamiliar and alien, something that can grasp hold of our imaginations and help us deal of the human condition. Although there may be some gaps within how much we enjoy and value literature (age, class, etc.) it still effects us all and is a great source that we shouldn’t lose out connection with. Literature begins at the heart and takes hold of us in inspiring, captivating and in such extreme ways that we find it really engaging and something it explains and is included as a huge part of the identity of humanity.
I would like to thank Esk Valley Rotary for allowing me to come along to their running dinner and interview them. As you can see, all the information they have given has been greatly appreciated and is of huge value to me. If you would like to know about what the Rotary does, visit their website here: Esk Valley Rotary or follow them on twitter at @EskValleyRotary or make friend with them on facebook at Esk Valley Rotary.
And if you have any comments on these interviews or my research please comment on this post or tweet me @ChloeHendeson9 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I can’t wait to hear from you!