In case you need to feel validated for writing literary fiction, science will back you up

I’m not usually the type to post an hour before Shabbos starts, but this news item (first heard this morning during the break between some Mozart and some Corelli on KUSC) is just too wonderful to wait.

In case you feel defensive because you still think high-quality literature belongs in schools, or you’re trying to encourage quality over quantity in your own writing (thus spending way more time on each piece than seems wise), a new study indicates that reading literary fiction (Jane Austen, Don DiLillo, Chekov, or Alice Munro) temporarily enhances a reader’s emotional intelligence.

For more, read the study’s abstract here and a New York Times piece about it here.

One thought on “In case you need to feel validated for writing literary fiction, science will back you up

  1. The articles were fascinating. They definitely suggest a possible link between today’s declining interest in literary fiction and the concurrent coarsening of society (with breakdowns in social norms and respect). People are complex, multifaceted beings; it’s important that we maintain an ability to view, and to interact with, each other as such. Some books published for children today will include one-dimensional characters who have been reduced (usually through first-person narration) to inane labels like “jock,” “popular kid” (“cool” is passé), or that detestable expression, “nerd.” Literary works that avoid all such stereotyping in favor of profound explorations of human beings as actual human beings are far more effective at guiding students to be empathetic members of society with real values. One quote from the NY Times article was particularly illuminating:

    “Frankly, I agree with the study,” said Albert Wendland, who directs a master’s program in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. “Reading sensitive and lengthy explorations of people’s lives, that kind of fiction is literally putting yourself into another person’s position — lives that could be more difficult, more complex, more than what you might be used to in popular fiction. It makes sense that they will find that, yeah, that can lead to more empathy and understanding of other lives.”

    I cringe when I think of the shallow, utilitarian human relationships that have become preferable for, and accepted by young people, even over the past 10-15 years. This social and moral decay is extremely disturbing, and is but one symptom of general neglect of literature (including literary fiction). The preference for vapid entertainment that reduces humans to two-dimensional caricatures can lead to much suffering and dysfunction.

    Let’s read and write more literary fiction, and encourage our youth to do the same, while we still can.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s