Evolution of Story on American Idol

FromAmateur HourToAmerican IdolAn Evolution of Story

As a reader and a writer, I have become a student of the importance of story in our lives and the impact it has on what we believe, how we learn, what we understand and what we accept as valid. This has made me more attuned to my own responses to the messages around me and how those messages are now being created or transformed by story. It is useful information for me as a writer and as a consumer of information.

A Case in Point

In the summer of 1964, a group from my hometown appeared on television’s “Ted Mack Amateur Hour”. For those of you who don’t know, Ted Mack’s program introduced performers to a national audience through radio and then television from 1934 until 1970, with 3 ½ million auditioning and 25,000 acts performing. Such notables as Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Maria Callas, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, The Gentrys, Penny Marshall, Beverly Sills, Jim Stafford, and Gladys Knight appeared on “The Original Amateur Hour” and countless others competed for the public’s votes, with the winner each week invited back to compete with new contestants.

I was particularly interested in the program in 1964, when my brother performed with a group of folk singers from Kennett, Missouri.  The Minstrels had won an audition through the Delta Fair talent show, one of many they entered while in high school. The format for Ted Mack’s show was similar to those talent shows: each act was introduced very briefly before they performed and all were brought back individually for a couple of seconds at the end, with a phone number for viewers to cast their votes.

That The Minstrels were invited back for a second time was a confirmation of their talent; Kennett and the surrounding small towns could not have supplied enough votes for them to win. When it was over, they all returned to Kennett and proceeded with their lives. I imagine they recall those days as times when they enjoyed their music and each other and gave little thought to being propelled into stardom.

Fast Forward to Today

I have recently been drawn to the television on Sunday and Monday nights, after promising myself that I would not become an “American Idol” watcher during their come-back season. I had watched the series during some of the earlier seasons, but had decided that I didn’t really have time to get involved.

But one night, I sat down to watch “for just a few minutes” and I was drawn in.  By the end of the show, I was hooked – I knew that I would be watching the entire season. But it wasn’t the talent, although I quickly chose some possible winners and winced at some who obviously wouldn’t be “going to Hollywood.”

It was the stories the contestants told about themselves that caught my attention and, in many cases, my sympathy or empathy. I found myself giving extra points to those who had gone through heartbreaking struggles or self-doubt.  (I couldn’t help noticing that I was giving those extra points to almost everybody.)

Last weekend, I found myself almost weeping when a couple of the contestants were eliminated.  I liked them so much and had become so engaged with their lives that they were almost a personal loss to me.  That’s when I realized that the creators of “American Idol” were using our connection to story to bring us back week after week. Yes, we appreciate the talent and assume that it will somehow get its due when the votes are counted. But those personal stories are influencing us just the same – just as the fact that my votes went to The Minstrels because they came from my hometown back in 1964.

I realized that the creators of “American Idol” were using our connection to story to bring us back week after week.

The difference lies in something very subtle – the voters’ ability and consent to be affected by story. We are learning that it is a human trait that we all possess in varying degrees and it applies to virtually every aspect of our lives today. A program like “American Idol” can be fairly benign in its intentions and I can continue to enjoy it as entertainment and hope for the best for my favorite performers, just as I can read novels for the same reasons.

What we must remember is that the power of story can also be used in negative ways also, but that’s a subject for another post.

In the meantime, I tuned in to “American Idol” last night and was fairly subdued until it appeared that my favorite contestant might be eliminated.  Then, at the last minute, she made it through and I almost fell off my chair with relief. It was almost like reading Cinderella for the first time – she would “go to the ball” and (maybe) get a chance at the glass slipper.

Such is the power of story, and the reason I’ll tune in for “the next chapter” next week.

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Bookish Blessings

Counting My Bookish Blessings (1)

Blessings are all around me, every day. I have stopped at 25 that are related to reading and books.  Even as I typed the last one on this list, I thought of two or three more.  But to start:

Endless choices to fill my “to read” list.

Several comfortable locations to read in my home.

My hometown library, the staff and the services it provides.

The “book box” at the mall near to my home, as an alternative place to pick up and drop off books.

Our library system and its staff, who are always looking for new ways to serve their customers.

A “bookish career” in the library that has led me to a perfect retirement, with plenty of time to read, write, and connect with books and authors.

Independent and local bookstores who lend a personal touch and pleasure to the reading and shopping experience and who promote and nurture local and regional authors.

Enough money to purchase an occasional book for myself.

The option to use Amazon and other online sellers for specific needs.

The freedom and convenience of my electronic reader.

The pleasure and comfort of traditionally published books.

My grandchildren and other youngsters for whom I can buy and recommend books.

“Bookish” friends who understand me.

Book discussion groups for talking about and sharing our favorites.

Audiobooks, especially those provided free by the library.

Magazines and other periodicals, also made available online by the library.

Booklists, reviews and recommendations to help guide me.

Goodreads and other online services that bring readers together.

Book bloggers who write about their own reading preferences and the bookish life.

Opportunities, through libraries and bookstores, to meet and hear authors speak about their work.

The National and Oklahoma Centers for the Book and other state centers whose mission is to promote books and reading.

The Friends of the Library, who sponsor programs and special events for all ages, all-year long.

The many poets and authors and illustrators who have brought me so much reading pleasure.

Legislators who understand how important reading and books are to our nation.

All of those who nurtured my love of books and reading when I was growing up.

 

How about you?  What bookish blessings would you add? I look forward to sharing more with you in the future.

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“Best Books” or Personal Favorites?

 

_Best Book_ of 2017 or Personal Favorite_ (2)

I have, for many years, been interested in critical reviews when deciding which books to add to my “to read” list. These examinations of theme, character, tone, plot, and the author’s mastery of the written language have been my guideposts, as have the nominees and winners of the various literary prizes and the ever-growing lists of “best books” by publications that feature reviews.  One of my favorite magazines, Bookmarks, helps by publishing summaries of reviews from such authorities as The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post, and averaging their ratings.

There is another factor that comes into my personal selection which is equally important (to me) and compels me to change my end-of-the-year list from “Best Books” to “Personal Favorites”. Books on my  Favorites list are chosen according to the qualities and characteristics of the books which have spoken to me – one reader – and my tastes and preferences.

I will always pay homage to those who read deeply and critically, and have often set my sights on emulating them.  The challenge is that I often find myself so involved in the story that I forget that I am trying to read critically and get carried away. One of my own mantras as an aspiring writer is “It’s always about the story” and the very best stories make me forget anything else.

I have to consciously focus my thinking on the elements of good storytelling if I wish to read critically.  This is probably because I haven’t practiced deep reading enough, something I wish to do to develop my writing skills.

I have decided to leave the critical reviews to the professionals and share my favorites with you. This is not to say that the titles on my list are not praise-worthy, but to provide a measuring device to help guide you to (away from) a book I have enjoyed.

I am a member of Goodreads and would encourage you to join and become my reading friend there. Members rate the books they read from one to five stars and often write reviews (short and long, sometimes critical and sometimes “I loved this book”). You can see how popular a book is by looking at the average rating and the number of readers who have rated it.

I limit my own ratings to four or five stars, with an occasional three-stars for books I feel compelled to finish. I don’t complete books that would please me less than that – there are other readers who will rate them with one or two stars and I choose to spend my time other ways.

For those who are interested in what books might end up on my favorites list, I offer this:

  • I enjoy books about relationships, especially about families, friendships, and marriages.
  • I enjoy books where the protagonist or main character is close to my own age (although I don’t limit myself to stories about older people).
  • I enjoy books set in the south (especially the mid-south, where I grew up), in Oklahoma and the mid-west.
  • I enjoy rural and small-town settings.
  • I enjoy historical fiction and nonfiction about different eras and events.
  • I like to read biographies, autobiographies and memoirs about people who inspire me.
  • I enjoy books and stories that let me see myself and the world more completely.
  • I read books about storytelling and writing to build own my understanding and skills.
  • I read for entertainment and pleasure when I need a break, when I’m on vacation, or doing a task that doesn’t demand my full attention. (Audiobooks are a part of my reading diet.)
  • Finally, I am always thrilled to be surprised by a new author, a great book that doesn’t fit into any of these categories, or a good book that I missed earlier.

The following are the books that I enjoyed most during 2017.  I hope that you can find one or two (or several) that appeal to you. I will be interested in your own lists of favorites and recommendations as we move through 2018.

 

Fiction Favorites

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – This was one of the first novels I read during the year and has remained a favorite.  It is a story about a “blended” family, which fits into one of the catgeories to which I am drawn. Storytelling is another nonfictional category I read – what makes stories compelling and how our brains are wired to use story to help us function in the world. Commonwealth is about the stories the members of one family tell themselves, each other, and the world about the events in their lives, specifically the breakup of their parents’ marriages and how it affects them personally. This book began a year of exploration for me – reading memoirs and books about writing memoirs – in preparation for writing my own personal and family stories.

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott – This is another story about family – those we are born to and those who nourish us and bring us to our best selves. It begins with a young father’s suicide in a New York tenement and leads us through the multiple generations that experience the love and sacrifice of the Catholic nuns who extend their caregiving to those left behind. A beautiful story, simple yet complex in its understanding of the human condition, The Ninth Hour won my heart and gratitude that there is such goodness in the world.

Nonfiction Favorites

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee – My choice of American Wolf as one of my two favorite nonfiction books was a matter of serendipity, since it would probably not been a typical title I would read.  I chose to listen to the audiobook version after I heard it described as a staff favorite by a representative of Penguin Random House at a “Book Buzz” at one of my favorite libraries. I learned that the wolf is considered the closest species to man in terms of their behavior and was enthralled to hear the story of O’Six, the celebrated alpha female wolf of Yellowstone National Park. Her story, like our own, is one that encompasses generations and reflects the need for control and protection of the places we call home.

Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place by Rilla Askew – I have been an avid reader of the novels by this celebrated Oklahoma author.  They all speak to our state’s history and the challenges that have faced its citizens since its inception as Indian Territory.  Most American is a collection of essays that lends personal credence to the fiction she writes, in the form of her observation of and participation in the Oklahoma narrative. She writes with authority about the scars left by the Trail of Tears, the Osage Murders, the Tulsa Race Riots, the Oklahoma City Bombing and her own personal experiences as one who is an Oklahoman, a former resident of New York, and a citizen of the United States.

 

Five-Star Fiction

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Camino Island by John Grisham

Flight Patterns by Karen White

I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

The Risen by Ron Rash

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

The Storied Life of A.J. Filkry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

 

Five-Star Nonfiction

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life by Pat Conroy

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott

In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas by Daniel Schaeffer

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age by Mark Schaefer

Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place by Rilla Askew

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts by Ryan Holiday

Red Dirt Women: At Home on the Oklahoma Plains by Susan Kates

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future by Jonah Sachs

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron

 

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