The Stories We Tell
Written by: Joanna Gaines
Reviewed by: Margaret Austin
I needed to overcome a tad of scepticism when starting to read Joanna Gaines’ The Stories We Tell. ‘Story’ has become a bit of an overused word, due largely to social media. Even Facebook urges us to add to our story. What kind of stories was our writer referring to?
Gaines, a New York Times bestseller, is Korean American, raised near Wichita, Kansas. As a person of mixed race, she experienced teasing at school and even years later, continued to find it difficult to fit in.
A career in journalism, a successful construction and renovation business in partnership with her husband Chip, and a happy home life do not seem to have stilled persistent inner voices of self-doubt, fear, and unworthiness, feelings many readers can relate to. Nearing the age of 44, “things had gotten blurry” is how she describes it. She had one go at writing 20 years earlier, but here she is “a couple of decades later, longing once again to write everything down”.
And boy, does she! All 240 pages worth. They’re interspersed with pink backgrounded mantras such as “Looking up grounds me in gratitude” and “Growth is where my heart is”.
Self-help books offer special challenges to the author – chiefly how to keep reader interest while relating deeply personal feelings. Greater conciseness would better suit the author’s purpose here. We read at length about her guilt, regret and pain. Such confessions are no doubt useful to the writer, by helping to purge those feelings, but are they as useful to the reader?
Gaines has had a successful career and even a TV programme, both of which, she says, developed her understanding of story as a tool for growth, describing as it can the breadth and diversity of human experiences. Fair enough. That said, the declaration “Chip and I have become story-obsessed” is predictable so comes as no surprise!
Gaines’ experience of setting her personal journey down on paper has clearly been a salutary and positive one for her. She urges us all to tell our own.
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