April 19, 2012

"Reading fiction is important."

"It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps."

69 comments:

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Which is why I try to read a different newspaper, every day.

John Lynch said...

Novels are dying. Here's the obituary.

Basil said...

There is only one polar icecap, right?

Scott M said...

Novels are NOT dying. They are trading in the old, stuffy tree pulp for a slick, new electron-trimmed jumper. The industry is changing and the Big 6 publishers might be going the way of the dino, but the content is exploding.

I suppose I could have discerned that it was a NYT article by the sycophantic mention of global warming. We all know polar bear readership is way, way down because they're constantly swimming until they die these days.

ricpic said...

Evahbody a people so don' matta wedda dey read aw not, dey awl got diggity!

tim maguire said...

fiction is not a vital means of imagining a life other than our own. Non-fiction serves that purpose far better.

Original Mike said...

I thought the Antartic ice cap was expanding.

Michael said...

I couldn't agree more. Take a long wonderful look into the lives of dozens of very interesting characters in Anthony Powell"s "Dance to the Music of Time." There are few novels of the 20th century that equal it.

paul a'barge said...

They need to coin a Pulitzer Prize for b*llsh*t and give it to Barack Hussein Obama for his 2 memoirs.

AllieOop said...

Widmerpool reminds me of someone.

Quayle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Lynch said...

The demographic for new fiction is people like Professor Althouse- older, educated, women. In other words, it's much the same as the readership of the NY Times.

That's who buys it. There are plenty of novels produced but not so many that are successful.

It would be nice if e-books changed all that (I like novels), and that could happen, but I'm not holding my breath.

E-books open the possibility of something very different from a novel. It would be strange if we kept a format from centuries ago that's no longer necessary. Bound paper books limited what we could write and publish. With electronic publishing there's no reason to write the same way.

So, I don't think novels are going to make it.

BarryD said...

So they're saying that the skill of being quiet and alone is under no threat, whatsoever. Good to know.

Bob Ellison said...

She meant "more quickly than the polar icecaps", but she was probably a lousy writer, and her editors sucked.

rehajm said...

Nonfiction is more interesting, more exciting, stranger, and truer than fiction. Reading fiction is important for people who write fiction.

Scott M said...

So, I don't think novels are going to make it.

I'm sure much the same was said of live theater when movies became a reality. To be certain, live entertainment took a huge hit, but it changed, adapted, and is still available today.

It sort of depends on what you mean by a "novel". Do you mean the physical aspect, that of binding, paper, and glue? Or do you mean the literary construct that introduces us to characters and their various conflicts?

Michael K said...

The internet has been a powerful force for reading , at least for those who read. Neville Shute, my favorite author was almost forgotten until internet based used book stores appeared and there is now a fan group that travels o England and Australia to site from his books and discusses them.


http://www.nevilshute.org/

wyo sis said...

A comment disappeared while I was preparing to discuss it. It was bizarre. I'm bereft.
A novel in 140 characters or less.

Fen said...

wyo sis, Blogger also has a bad habit of eating comments before you send them. If my post is more than a few lines, I always make a habit of right-click copying before I hit send, just in case Blogger loses it.

pm317 said...

Ann Patchett is right. IMHO, reading fiction is a vehicle to develop sound analogical reasoning. But I have heard from my friends that today's children don't read much. What a pity! Growing up I used to read one new book every two-three days.

Fen said...

Do we really need all these newspapers? They all say the same thing anyway. Think of all the trees we could save if the Libtards just had WaPo.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllieOop said...

Michael K, my favorite book of all time is A Town Like Alice.

traditionalguy said...

Our generation has been blessed with great fictional novels to read, and we easily spend a day or two reading one we find that we like.

Today's computerized children have developed an attention span of seconds, not even minutes, and they will miss that experience.

The world is a better place for experiencing the stories told in fictional works; such as, Gone With the Wind, East of Eden, Catch 22, Doctor Zhivago, and many more.

But the world is coming close to insanity from reading science fictions that claim to be real.

Scott M said...

Reading fiction is important for people who write fiction.

On what facts do you base this assertion?

rhhardin said...

It screams NYT lifestyle. Sure, enough, it's the NYT.

TheThinMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

AllieOpp: Glad you like Powell. There is a commenter here who uses the Widmerpool handle.

Which is your favorite novel in the series?

Mitch H. said...

Alternatively, it's an exercise in submitting to the viewpoint authority of the author for the course of a book. I've found as I grow older, I'm less willing to accept the world-defining opinions of a writer of fiction.

Doesn't help that I used to be a big science-fiction or speculative fiction reader. World-building is so intrinsically ideological that as one's own opinions on the subject get firmer with age, that it interferes with suspension of disbelief. I find this issue becomes worse with fantasy, if only because it usually becomes a crutch for writers looking to escape the baleful influence of money and finance.

(BTW, for a really ripping financial fantasy, I recommend the Japanese light-novel series Spice and Wolf.)

Scott M said...

World-building is so intrinsically ideological that as one's own opinions on the subject get firmer with age, that it interferes with suspension of disbelief.

Peter F. Hamilton gets around this aspect by designing Confederations/Commonwealths with hundreds and hundreds of worlds that couldn't be more different ideologically/economically. In Reality Dysfunction he goes as far as to describe ethnic-centric planets settled by one race, creed, etc. He makes the point (within the construct of THAT particular human society) that humans only got along with one another once each facet of human intolerance had their own planet to spread out on. Regardless of what your particular bent is, that can be accepted within the sense of sci-fi suspension of disbelief. Of course, the government holding it all together was a light-handed liberal democracy with capitalistic overtones, but that's to be expected as, lol, socialism will confine us to this mudball until Sol burns out.

pm317 said...

Alternatively, it's an exercise in submitting to the viewpoint authority of the author for the course of a book. I've found as I grow older, I'm less willing to accept the world-defining opinions of a writer of fiction.

----------------------

This is true of me too as I grew older. In fact I heard an interview with Ann Patchett on PBS and bought her book only to throw it out after chapter one or less. So I don't generally read the contemporaries. But I would like the younger generation to read the time tested classics to develop alternative skills that comes from reading such fiction.

CJinPA said...

Does anyone still care about the Pulitzer?

TheThinMan said...

"Disappearing faster than polar ice caps" you say?
I guess you're REALLY into fiction! Thoses ice caps, which had been much smaller many times in the past, have actually gained volume recently.

It's sad how the left's knowledge base is so impoverished, they don't even know that they don't know. The "global warming" scam is but one example.

We on the right know everything they know because it's the Mainstream Media, but they are in a cocoon of falsehoods that never get disturbed.

chickenlittle said...

Tradguy wrote: Today's computerized children have developed an attention span of seconds, not even minutes, and they will miss that experience.



Perhaps you can regale them in your dotage as you turn the other cheek for wiping.

Robert Cook said...

I love reading, both fiction and nonfiction, and will not assert the superiority of one versus the other. I will, however, dispute the claim that reading fiction makes us "more empathetic."

Reading fiction may very well nourish any innate empathy we possess innately, but reading fiction is not sufficient in iteslf to generate empathy where it is otherwise absent.

Look at some of the leadership of Nazi Germany, and I'm thinking specifically of Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was a highly cultured man, a Ph.D. in 19th Century romantic drama, and he aspired to be a creative writer himself, (just as Hitler aspired to be a visual artist).

And yet, all his learning and erudition, his familiarity with literature and with the imagined "lives of others not oneself" to be found therein, did not provide any impediment to Goebbel's willingness to demonize the Jews and to promote their persecution, banishment, and execution.

Creative artists may be sensitve and brilliant and yet be miserable, hateful bastards in their lives; so, too, with those who read the works of great writers.

Mary Beth said...

She and Jonathan Franzen should hang out. They could complain about how we're just not reading what or how we are supposed to.

AllieOop said...

Michael, The Kindly Ones.

Robert Cook said...

Oops...I should have read my own comment before posting to remove a redundancy in the second paragraph.

Ah, well.

John Lynch said...

Yeah, I agree with RC.

This is flattery for intellectuals- their reading habits make them more empathetic, deeper, more understanding people- rather than anything they actually do.

AllieOop said...

Robert Cook, being cultured doesn't guarantee being humane. The Nazi's loved art and music too.

BarryD said...

"wyo sis, Blogger also has a bad habit of eating comments"

At least it won't eat your dog.

wyo sis said...

The last thing I want to do is start a Harry Potter conversation, but the total number of pages in the American editions of the Harry Potter series is 4,100. Many of the children I know have read them all (I'm a children's librarian.) Some of the kids go on to read other long books and book series such as the Narnia books. If books are good enough kids will read for long periods of time.

Rocketeer said...

"Fiction is not a vital means of imagining a life other than our own. Non-fiction serves that purpose far better."

A-Frickin'-MEN. Truer non-fiction words were never typed.

chickenlittle said...

AllieOop said...
Robert Cook, being cultured doesn't guarantee being humane. The Nazi's loved art and music too.

Isn't that like the Cliffs Notes version of Cook's already brief comment? ;)

Dan in Philly said...

Novels are dying because most modern novelsts are lightweights. There's plenty of really good material which is quite worth reading - want a complex plot line? Try War and Peace. Want deep and profound musings on humankind? Moby Dick is a good start.

50 Shades of Grey? Not likely.

AllieOop said...

Why yes Chickie, it is. That's my way of indicating I agree.

edutcher said...

Hey, I read fiction almost every day.

That's about how often Ann links to the Gray Lady.

Pete said...

Reading fiction should be fun. Why else would you do it?

Alex said...

We should have the government dictate how much fiction we're allowed to read. You know in between forced readings of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky.

gerry said...

Novels are NOT dying.

Neither are the polar ice caps.

lemondog said...

One satisfying aspect of reading novels is for the beauty, mosaic and sculpture of language. I envy those who can create such beauty.

I read Cannery Row a gazillion years ago and recall it having not much plot but highly descriptive.

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses." John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

MadisonMan said...

Neither are the polar ice caps.

Did you actually read that link?

lemondog said...

The Most Beautiful Sentence In Literature

ndspinelli said...

Fiction is for those who have no imagination and need someone to provide it.

Craig said...

You can say anything you want about fictional characters. They can't sue your ass.

Penny said...

I see Althouse used her "psychology" tag for this one.

Here's a little personal psychology.

Since the NYT's only gives me 10 free reads a month, there is no way I will use even one free read to follow an article that I expect will reinforce my current opinion.

Even if said article is in their "Lifestyle" section.

Course that's the woman in me, NYT's.

Dazzle me with some in depth reporting, or I fear you will "lose me forever".

Penny said...

And hopefully, Althouse reads her comments too.

Synova said...

I agree that the length and complexity of the story has a value different than shorter fiction or informative articles. I do think it requires us to use our brains differently. It's probably the same value difference between a sit-com and the first season of Game of Thrones, which simply means that we probably need to define "value."

I disagree that the longer story ought to be fiction rather than non-fiction or biography. Biography or History is probably a better choice, actually, for "imagining a life different than our own."

I disagree that people who read novels are better human beings (more empathetic) than people who don't.

I also suspect, since the article is about Pulizer Prizes, that the fiction most people read isn't going to count.

Synova said...

"E-books open the possibility of something very different from a novel. It would be strange if we kept a format from centuries ago that's no longer necessary. Bound paper books limited what we could write and publish. With electronic publishing there's no reason to write the same way.

So, I don't think novels are going to make it.
"

How different is a novel from a saga?

I think that a case could be made that long, involved, story-telling predates the printing press and will persist when the printing press is obsolete.

Craig said...

Fictional characters can't sue your ass.

Synova said...

"Today's computerized children have developed an attention span of seconds, not even minutes, and they will miss that experience."

I want to dispute the notion that young people's attention spans are so short. I think they take in information in a scatter-shot sort of way, but that doesn't mean they process the information scatter-shot... at least, if they do, they would have done so in any case.

All of mine have and do read novels, but not at the rate I did when I was in school. They're all on-line, taking in those bits and pieces, and are on top of the meme of the moment, but memes are a gestalt sort of thing, I think. They don't work outside of the connections and (these days) global context.

If a person has a compulsion to connect information into a larger whole, they'll do that. If a person tends to view events or information in isolation, they'll do that too. I doubt even leading them through longer and complex interactions and relationships will help.

Joe said...

Ah, the conceit that anyone, but those directly involved, gives a shit about the Pulitzer. There is probably more interest among the masses in the Hugo awards and even that's pretty nerdy and usually only shows up in the context of "my favorite author it better than yours."

It leaves me wondering how poor Will ever wrote a damn thing without the incentive of an aware given out by the arbiters of taste.

Robert Cook said...

"There is probably more interest among the masses in the Hugo awards...."

No. The masses have zero idea what the Hugo Awards are.

gerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gerry said...

Did you actually read that link?


Yes. From the article:

"Nearly 230 billion tons of ice is melting into the ocean from glaciers, ice caps, and mountaintops annually—which is actually less than previous estimates, according to new research by scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

"Even with an eight-year estimate, it's not clear how far into the future you can project," he says. "A lot of people want to predict into the end of the century, but I think it's too dangerous to do that … We don't have enough info to know what'll happen. There's some ebb and flow to these things."

Emphasis added. Apparently the science isn't settled. Ebb and flow. Not enough info. Innacurate estimates

Scott M said...

Define masses.

26% of all fiction sold is science-fiction/fantasy. I would suggest that anyone that has bought more than one sci-fi or fantasy book knows that the Hugo is an award in that genre simply from the marketing in that isle.

If you want to say that most (the masses) know what Star Trek is, but don't know about the Hugo, I suppose I could go along with that. But if "the masses" is referring to the book buying/reading people, ie those that would care/not care about the Pulitzer, I doubt it.

leslyn said...

Michael said...

I couldn't agree more. Take a long wonderful look into the lives of dozens of very interesting characters in Anthony Powell"s "Dance to the Music of Time." There are few novels of the 20th century that equal it.

I would add to that Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and "Love in the Time of Cholera." "Love" is my favorite, but "Solitude" has a wider range.

NPR, I think, once asked novelists what their favorite first sentence was. The great majority said, the first sentence in "One Hundred Years of Solitude:"

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

leslyn said...

Unfortunately for the majority non-science fiction types, there will be no Pulitzer Prize for literature this year.

The three-judge panel narrowed down 300 books to 3, then voted.

They each voted for a different books, so none got a majority. Apparently they don't revote until they get one.

The good news is, we have three Pulitzer-worthy "winners": Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Knopf), and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown).

I am looking forward to "The Pale King."

John Lynch said...

Pale King came out? How? He died.