Stories We Tell Ourselves

Longlisted for PEN’s 2014 Art of the Essay Award

“This persistently amusing and endearingly eccentric book demonstrates the elasticity and élan of the personal essay in the hands of a consummate practitioner, as well as the plentiful resources of its author’s consciousness.”—Phillip Lopate (The Art of the Personal Essay)

Stories We Tell Ourselves is a marvelous inquiry into what dreams can tell us about ourselves—in short, that some vast part of our experience, cut off from us and made unconscious, can be plumbed by anyone who is curious and persistent enough to pursue the enigmatic language of dreams.”—Annie Rogers (The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma)

“The whole is seamless, beautifully crafted; the subject matter is universal; the weave of self and other—Herman and scientists, Herman and her daughter—is masterful.”—Scott Raab (The Whore of Akron)

“This slim volume includes two extended essays, incisive and conversational, that…complement each other as if they were two sides of the coin of the unconscious, the former focusing on dreams and how they work and what they mean, the latter illuminating a rare (or is it?) perception disorder that serves as a more general metaphor. As a writer (of fiction and memoir) and teacher of writing, Herman (Dog, 2005, etc.) confesses that she isn’t a specialist in these areas, that she has a “lack of expertise, paired with plenty of ideas…that combination of knowing little and having theories and opinions about much.” Yet her opinions are often revelatory and help her overcome the challenge that is central to the first and longer essay, that “nobody wants to hear anybody else’s dreams; everyone wants to tell his dreams to somebody.” So even as readers are threatened with drowning in details about the author’s dream of her grandmother, such specifics lead to the universal understanding that “understanding one’s dreams is more like reading Wallace Stevens—or looking at a painting of Mark Rothko’s—than it is like the one-to-one correlation…of translation. To make ‘sense’ of our dreams, we don’t interpret them so much as we feel our way through them.” The second essay proceeds from the way her daughter occasionally sees things (and her mother in particular) as much smaller or larger than they really are….

“An engaging companion offers a spirit of shared humanity.”

Kirkus, January 1, 2013

“Our internal narrative is vast and curious in its roots….These are the stories we write in our own minds to piece together our history, try to understand ourselves, and push towards what we seek out of life….Very much highly recommended reading.”

Midwest Book Review, April 2013

Read a review in The Rumpus here.