Napoli to discuss importance of insignificant details



Author Donna Jo Napoli is well on her way to 100. Books, that is.

Early on in her career, she said she felt like she would go to her grave with “a hundred unpublished manuscripts.” But now, at age 66, Napoli has written 77 books for young readers.

“My problem is whether I can live long enough to write all the stories I want to write,” Napoli said.

Napoli’s extensive works are filled with large themes and small details, but Napoli said it is those small details that matter most.

Napoli will explore the importance of those miniscule pieces of information with her Brown Bag lecture, called “The Significance of the Insignificant,” at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Napoli said these small details, which some might view as insignificant, sometimes have the most meaning for readers.

“Sometimes when you write for others, you can get very involved in huge issues,” Napoli said. “You can get involved in life and death issues — the sort of thing you remember on your deathbed. But, in fact, the little tiny things of daily life add up. And they can be largely responsible for your overall sense of satisfaction in life.”

Napoli gave a domestic example.

“When people get divorced, they complain about things like, ‘Well, I mean, he would slam the freezer door. He knew it didn’t latch well, so when I went to get my ice cream, it was always ruined,’” Napoli said. “And they talk about these itty-bitty, obnoxious things, but what they’re really saying is, ‘On a daily basis, I didn’t feel loved.’ ”

Herman Melville might have written about mighty themes, but for Napoli, the minutiae matters most.

“It is the daily basis things that make your story, as a writer, resonate with your reader,” Napoli said. “Your reader may not be able to identify with whatever particular large problem your character has, but your reader is going to look for the details that ring true to their experience. And those things — they make your story matter.”

Napoli hopes that her Brown Bag will get a flow of ideas going between her and her audience so they both can learn from the experience.

“I hope that I will find new things to help me to understand how people live their daily lives,” Napoli said. “One thing about Chautauqua is that people seem to be ready to let themselves float in new waters. They’re willing to take the time to just bob along and see what washes over them. And I love that about the place. I’m hoping that whatever I do manage to say to people will lead us into a discussion that gives us all insights into what matters to us on a daily basis – the value of the quotidians.”

Napoli hopes her Brown Bag will help people open their eyes to those quotidians. Even if audience members are not writers, she said,paying attention to these small details is key in illuminating their lives.

“Attention to detail; attention to what makes them happy or sad or scared,” Napoli said. “Once you’ve recognized something, it can help you to decide whether or not you want to address it, to decide whether or not you want to caress it and encourage it.”