Su’s Summer Books: ‘The Hidden Story of Every Person’

Words by Su Ertekin-Taner

“It was a dark and stormy night,” a heavily cliched story might begin, but our story and the story begins differently because it was dark and stormy on this Friday, but it wasn’t night nor was there a pretense of isolation that this cliched phrase indicates. In fact, while I was sheltered from the rain by independent bookstore Chamblin’s Uptown, I was anything but alone. I was among books, chronicles, magnum opuses, classics. 


These volumes are, at times, vertically stacked, but mostly horizontally to fill the pockets of wood that are their bookshelves. Alphabetical organization even eludes some of these books. Neatly curated doesn’t quite fall in the vocabulary of Chamblin’s; much of the little organization comes from handwritten signs directing visitors to a genre or the existence of the bookshelves themselves. Their jargon probably includes words like “cluttered,” “packed,” “unsettled.”


But I enjoy the cluttered, packed and unsettled because the untidiness makes room for meaty discoveries: on any other day, a book you find could be lodged in another book or relocated to the bottom of the shelf. The book could be shelves away or not on a shelf at all. The book could be traveling — courtesy of Chamblin’s book trading service — taken by a customer hoping to spend their store credit. So know, your book is exceptional and momentous. 


Today, my exceptional and momentous find is “The Hidden Story of Every Person & Other Short Stories” by Robert Pantano. I initially pick up (or rather, pull out) this read because it belongs in the short story section, and I want to read a new format. It lies on the bottom of a heavy stack of books and includes the word “hidden.” The book clearly knows the sense of discovery I seek and proudly offers it. 


A scan of the cover and binding reveals that these short stories appear as YouTube videos on Pantano’s channel, Pursuit of Wonder, with over 2 million subscribers. A curiosity swells: how can one reconcile an auditory and visual presentation of information with a literary one? I’m sold and so is the book a minute later. 


I begin to read in between packing for later travels. The three- to seven-page stories read fast not only because of their length, but also because they are stories, confined within themselves and requiring little memory; the simplicity of the language also makes for a more fluid read. The format of the stories are relatively standardized: introductory information dump, conflict, consideration of conflict and/or resolution, and some ending philosophy. Essentially, these stories are parables. 


While the structure and style aren’t monumental — although the sentences hit syntax gold sometimes —I enjoy the premise of the book: It is a digestible piece of philosophy, a genre of literature that is easily understandable for the masses. The stories discuss free will or lack thereof, the meaning of loneliness, a Brave New World-esque technology of the future, the results of too little enlightenment, the human desire for fulfillment and its downsides, a historically tackled reinterpretation of the afterlife, mor(t)ality, etc. Some of my favorite allegories of the bunch were: “The Art of Loneliness,” “Every Person Is One Choice Away From Everything Changing,” “One Thought Can Change You Forever,” “What Happens After Everything Ends” and “The Last Thing You’ll Remember,” all of which have relatively self-explanatory titles. These stories seemed to convey the universal human experience in a short, straightforward format that made their truths authoritative and indisputable. Perhaps, as a somewhat lonely, choice-making thinker who considers the afterlife and other heavily debated qualms, I related. 


I finish the book, impressed by its relatability and empathy, but even more impressed by the book’s ability to duplicate while reinterpreting the fables I read and listened to as a child. With its distinct sci-fi and fantasy twist on some of the most global themes, the book offers modern day, adult parables. Essentially, I have read and thought about some topics that I first encountered in my childhood, now in a more nuanced light. Still, the messages remain penetrating and will continue to.


So for its heart, applicability, and universality, I recommend “The Hidden Story of Every Person” to every age group in every context, even every person … at least those who have a bit of time to spare for philosophy on a dark and stormy night or otherwise.

About Su Ertekin-Taner

Jacksonville native Su Ertekin-Taner is a student at Columbia University with a passion for everything arts. While she writes creatively, satirically, journalistically, and enthusiastically (of course), she also loves to sing, dance, and do impressions; her favorites are Toddlers and Tiaras Mom and Shakira. Find Su critiquing the quality of reality TV that she willingly spends several hours a day watching, petting her cat even though she recently discovered her cat allergy, and probably watching paint dry because it's fun.