Book Review: We Need New Stories
We’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but are we allowed to judge a book by its title? Because We Need New Stories, by Nesrine Malik, is a bit misleading right off the bat. Her book offers plenty of insight into the national myths that are foundational to how we understand our identity in America and in the West. She admirably identifies the ways that race, gender, and culture have been undermined under the guise of meritocracy and institutional legacy. The problem is, she doesn’t offer anything to replace those myths.
If anything, Malik seems to articulate the cultural myths are damaging for a society, in that it obscures reality from being accessible. So if we need to eliminate these kind of standard stories, we don’t actually need NEW stories, we need NONE. And that is my biggest critique of the book; Malik had it right from the beginning. National myths are incredibly powerful at bringing people together, at creating the kind of imagined future that is the calling card for America. The explanations we’ve had to this point haven’t been nearly thoughtful or inclusive enough. But that doesn’t mean we should scrap the project altogether.
We Need New Stories does a solid job of tearing down the miscellaneous cultural expectations that have historically set us up to fail. But Malik doesn’t do nearly enough to provide an alternative that inspires a brighter, more intentional future. There are lots of think-pieces out there about what’s wrong with the world, but this seemed like a book that was going to offer solutions; unfortunately, I was left wanting.