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  • Writer's pictureMo Reynolds

Stacks of Stories

No matter how thin the pancake, it always has two sides.

Someone deep said that once.

I'll add this next level deep thought:

Humans are more complicated that pancakes.

Now, there's the bumper sticker saying you didn't know you needed.

Life used to be much more black and white for me. As a teen, I knew exactly what was absolutely right and completely wrong. As I have gracefully aged, those columns have gotten blurrier, shorter, and hopefully much kinder. More and more I am realizing that "pancake" situations abound--that everyone has a side in every story. And we are generally only seeing the top "pancake" in a huge stack of stories. We all walk around carrying with us millions of stories, the stories behind why we like the food we like, watch the shows we watch, drive the way we drive, love the way we love, and hate the way we hate. Fredrik Backman gets this in a powerful way.

This is the second time I've read this novel. And, if possible, I loved it even more this round. It is a weaving of magic and reality, story and prose, heartbreak and humor. Read it immediately.

What this book does so beautifully is remind us that every human we cross paths with has a story, in fact has hundreds of stories. And, some of those stories are intensely painful. And, some of those stories look an awful lot like the ones we are toting around for ourselves.

"Storytelling" is this new hot buzz word right now. And that's fine, storytelling is awesome. I should know, I've actually been paid to get on a stage and tell people a story. I'm a fan of storytelling. But, what about story listening? What about that part of the puzzle? Are we willing to listen to stories of people that wear the "wrong" hat or slap the "wrong" bumper sticker on their car? Because they have stories. They have stories that are really beautiful, really painful, and really strikingly similar to ours.

Everyone is a pancake, a complicated multi-sided pancake, walking around trying to make sense of this wild ride of a life. Nobody is all good or all bad. There are some remarkable humans in history who also made some really crappy choices. And, like it or not, there are some "evil" humans in history who also had some beautiful traits. I'm guessing that there were Nazis who were loving parents, and civil rights activists who cheated on their spouses.

We are all complicated. And our stories are worth hearing. That's what Elsa's granny is trying to teach her on this fairy tale treasure hunt of a novel. It's the reason I love it so much, the reason I recommend it more than any other book I've read. It's the reason I get up in front of people and tell them stories--because the world will get better if we realize that humans are layers and layers of stories and our layers have far more in common than we think.

As Elsa's wise granny says (pardon the language, Granny is quite a firecracker), "The real trick of life was that almost no one is entriely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the not-a-shit side as one can."

Amen, Granny, amen.

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