Nerdy Book Club

Stories thrive on reversals. You get your heart’s desire, only it turns out to be the worst thing that could happen to you. Or, it looks like all is lost, but then somehow you save the day.

One of my favorite examples of the narrative power of reversal is found in a very simple story from China called “The Lost Horse.” I encountered it through storyteller Joel ben Izzy, who wrote a fantastic book called The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness. In “The Lost Horse,” a wise man goes through a series of reversals of fortune. Whether the change is favorable or not, his response is always the same: What seems like a blessing could be a curse. What seems like a curse could be a blessing.

I remember this story so well because—after a great deal of misery and self-flagellation—I recognize it as the story of my…

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