The Secret Life of Stories
From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read
Published by: NYU Press
How an understanding of intellectual disability transforms the pleasures of reading
Narrative informs everything we think, do, plan, remember, and imagine. We tell stories and we listen to stories, gauging their “well-formedness” within a couple of years of learning to walk and talk. Some argue that the capacity to understand narrative is innate to our species; others claim that while that might be so, the invention of writing then re-wired our brains.
In The Secret Life of Stories, Michael Bérubé tells a dramatically different tale, in a compelling account of how an understanding of intellectual disability can transform our understanding of narrative. Instead of focusing on characters with disabilities, he shows how ideas about intellectual disability inform an astonishingly wide array of narrative strategies, providing a new and startling way of thinking through questions of time, self-reflexivity, and motive in the experience of reading. Interweaving his own stories with readings of such texts as Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, Bérubé puts his theory into practice, stretching the purview of the study of literature and the role of disability studies within it.
Armed only with the tools of close reading, Bérubé demonstrates the immensely generative possibilities in the ways disability is deployed within fiction, finding in them powerful meditations on what it means to be a social being, a sentient creature with an awareness of mortality and causality—and sentience itself. Persuasive and witty, Michael Bérubé engages Harry Potter fans and scholars of literature alike. For all readers, The Secret Life of Stories will fundamentally change the way we think about the way we read.
"[Berube has] picked out select booksthat I can imagine him either teaching or just reading for pleasure, identifying themes to explicate, and taking as much delight in the retelling of key episodes as he does in the deeper analysis." ~Los Angeles Review of Books
"This volume is important for connecting disability studies with literary scholarship." ~Choice
"Arguing that the idea of intellectual disability has been for writers and can be for critics an extremely productive nexus for thinking through big questions about narrative and irony, The Secret Life of Storiespushes us further, brilliantly defending the arts and humanities. Bérubés mind for literary analysis is a powerhouse. This little book is a rare treat." ~Susan M. Schweik,author of The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public
""An enlightening examination." ~Library Journal
"The Secret Life of Storiesis certainly a landmark text in literary studies of disability and in literary criticism more generally. It will change the way you think about disability." ~Canadian Review of Comparative Literature
"Michael Bérubé has long advocated for the importance of the humanities in higher education and in public culture more generally. InThe Secret Life of Stories, he puts that advocacy into practice, demonstrating to readers the multifaceted pleasures of reading. With dazzling ideas about narrative and disability, interwoven with personal stories and delightful readings of a variety of texts,The Secret Life of Storiesis a joy to read. An extraordinary book." ~Robert McRuer,author of Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability
"Michael Bérubés son tells us that & in a story things have to happen for a reasonas fine a definition of narrative as Aristotles.That is also true of great literary criticism: it helps us understand why things happen, in literature and in life.This generous, expansive, brilliant book has deep insights for all of us. The Secret Life of Storiesis preciousfor all the right reasons." ~Cathy N. Davidson,Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of Now You See It: How the Brain Scien
"[A] concise, fresh, and deeply informed look at how we read." ~STARRED Kirkus Reviews
"The Secret Life of Stories...gives a reader the feeling of sitting in an engaging seminar with a witty, candid, and empathetic leader. It reviews literary disability studies in a way comprehensible to those new to the field, even as it invigorates and extends that thinking for current disability studiesscholars....Bérubé offers therefore just the right voice to model ideas that make the case for disability as both a matter of social justice and of artistic innovation, marking the maturity of the field even as it works to move it in new directions." ~College Literature
"Michael Berube'sThe Secret Life of Storiesis that rare book that manages to speak to its specialized academic audience while imagining and addressing a much broader readership. Berube...has crafted an accessible, if still rigorous, study of the way fiction grapples with intellectual disability." ~Slant Magazine
"Bérubé's timely and significant contributions in The Secret Life of Stories emboldens scholars of the humanities to study more deeply intellectual disability and its function in narrative."An enjoyable and thought-provoking work that will encourage continued engagement with intellectual disability" ~Disability Studies Quarterly