I read Narrative Thought and Narrative Language on the recommendation of one of its editors, Bruce Britton. He mentioned it in the comment thread of my post on "agency bias."

I wrote a brief follow-up e-mail that started a nice conversation. The relevant portion (a few scattered thoughts on the book) is here:

Dr. Britton,

As promised, I read the volume you suggested (Narrative Thought and Narrative Language) to clear up some issues regarding my "The Agency Problem" post on overcomingbias.com.

I can see where your view, namely, that the power of stories comes "from learning, because our life is formulated as a story, not genetically but because time is sequential and our motives cause our stories," comes from.

Perhaps most relevantly, Olson says "There is nothing natural about the narrative; it is a linguistic form analogous to rhyme" in his essay (p. 101).

I now see what you mean, though I think a good case (perhaps corroborated by Chafe) could be made that narrative _is_ the most "natural" vector for our internal models. In other words, if a person's cognitive maps of reality relate to some agent (usually himself) wouldn't a form so concerned with agency (as narratives typically are) stick? If so, it would mean we're genetically predisposed to narrative. Tenuous, indeed, but intuitively appealing (to me).

Anyway, I found the book for the most part informative and engaging. I will say that I really did not like the first paper, "Narrative Comprehension." I thought it was long-winded, unsure of itself, poorly designed, and mostly unconvincing, though I did enjoy the four short stories in the appendix. This is not to say the thrust of the chapter was lost on me, but I didn't enjoy the presentation.

I was quite fond of McGuire's "The Rhetoric of Narrative: A Hermeneutic, Critical Theory." His ideas didn't blow my hair back, but he is an excellent writer.

I thought Chafe had a cool approach with his "Some Things That Narratives Tell Us About the Mind," and I was impressed (though a little overloaded) by the methods in "The Joint Construction of Stories."

One thing that struck me was how often this Bruner guy got mentioned (his 1986 book was cited in practically every chapter). Must have been a pretty influential piece.