Why you should read fiction

"Until recently, we’ve only been able to guess about the actual psychological effects of fiction on individuals and society. But new research in psychology and broad-based literary analysis is finally taking questions about morality out of the realm of speculation.

This research consistently shows that fiction does mold us. The more deeply we are cast under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape.

But perhaps the most impressive finding is just how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better, not for the worse. Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings seem to warp our sense of reality. They make us believe in a lie: that the world is more just than it actually is. But believing that lie has important effects for society — and it may even help explain why humans tell stories in the first place."

More: http://articles.boston.com/2012-04-29/ideas/31417849_1_fiction-morality-happy-endings

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The function of a writer, literature

"The function of a committed writer is to reveal the world so that every reader loses her innocence and assumes all her responsibilities in front of it."

"The function of a writer is to call a spade a spade. If words are sick, it is up to us to cure them. Instead of that, many writers live off this sickness. In many cases modern literature is a cancer of words. There is nothing more deplorable than the literary practice which, I believe, is called poetic prose and which consists of using words for the obscure harmonics which resound about them and which are made up of vague meanings which are in contradiction with the clear meaning."

"That is not all: we are living in an age of mystifications. Some are fundamental ones which are due to the structure of society; some are secondary. At any rate, the social order today rests upon the mystification of consciousness, as does disorder as well." 

"There is no guarantee that literature is immortal. If writers lose it, too bad for us. But also, too bad for society. Of course, all that is not very important. The world can do very well without literature. But it can do without man still better." 

"Language is our shell and our antennae, it is the prolongation of our senses, a third eye which is going to look into our neighbors heart." 

"We are within language as within our body." 

"To speak is to act; anything which one names is already no longer quite the same; it has lost its innocence."

"Sartre asserts that if a writer is not fully committed to both political and more importantly economic liberty, he is internally at war with the fundamental free nature of literature."

"Though people say a film, podcast, song or interview changed their life, prose retains a unique ability to not just to crystallize an emotional or intellectual recognition but to spark a chain of insights that illuminates a different path in life."

More: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-future-is-unknown-but-we-know-the-unsustainable-will-implode-2012-4

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Read novels, make a better world

"While each of us only gets one life, and one span of time in which to live it, reading allows us to enter the lives of other people living in other spans of time.

One can often understand more about these fictional characters with all their hidden thoughts laid bare on the page than many of the flesh and blood people with whom we spend real time, because real people usually don’t confess all their hopes and motivations and secrets the way literary figures do.

When you read a novel, you do feel while you’re reading it that you’re almost living another life.

I’ve wondered myself, many times, whether the world might not be different if more people read more novels. Privately, I’ve thought a few novels might do rigid and judgmental folks a world of good. It’s harder to hate and judge people when you understand them.

People are generally more accepting of those of other races and lifestyles once they get to know a few such people. I think the same process is possible with novels."

More: http://m.pekintimes.com/svc/wlws.svc/getHtml#article/?sectionId=1202&feedId=1639&articleId=3871227

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What is Reading

"A book is a door; on the other side is somewhere else … Books work from the inside out. They are a private conversation happening somewhere in the soul..."

"Reading is becoming a casualty of the surf syndrome of the web. Reading is not skimming for information. Reading is a deeper dive."

"When we open a book … we really do enter, as far as our brains are concerned, a new world … and it is our cognitive immersion in that world that gives reading its rich emotional force."

"We must reposition literature in settings … where its profound worth will be seen for what it really is: the holder of human value, human meaning and, yes, even the secrets of the universe."

"Reading is a way through, a way in, a way out … a way of life."

More: http://m.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/lets-talk-about-text-20120405-1wetd.html

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Book publishers confess

"Publishers confess they’ve goofed.

Here’s why: Book publishers have been very slow to realize this but gradually began to admit that they really didn’t know all that well what they’re doing.

Seriously. They don’t. And they know it. Fact: Nearly all published books – conservative estimates range between 80-90 percent – lose money. These books don’t earn out their advances, don’t have second printings, they sell in the low four digits at best, are returned from the retail accounts and pulped or recycled.

The rest have to make up for it, and often don’t. What kind of a business is that?

So as book publishers have begun to admit to themselves and even publicly that they can’t really predict what will sell or not, they’ve also realized that the old methods of selling, of marketing a book have stopped working."

More: http://blogs.forbes.com/booked/2011/06/06/good-day-sunshine-for-writers/

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Writers do it

Margaret Atwood did it.
Edgar Rice Burrows did it.
Willa Cather did it.
Joseph Conrad did it.
Alexandre Dumas did it.
T. S. Eliot did it.
Nathaniel Hawthorne did it.
Ernest Hemingway did it.
James Joyce did it.
Rudyard Kipling did it.
D. H. Lawrence did it.
Anais Nin did it.
Edgar Allan Poe did it.
Ezra Pound did it.
Marcel Proust did it.
Beatrice Potter did it.
James Redfield did it.
George Bernard Shaw did it.
Upton Sinclair did it.
Gertrude Stein did it.
Henry David Thoreau did it.
Leo Tolstoy did it.
Mark Twain did it.
Walt Whitman did it.
Virginia Woolf did it.

You, too, can self-publish your book.

But you do not have to. Perhaps you cannot be bothered, and prefer someone else do it for you? You can find a publisher, even in this rough time for the industry. In order to stand out from the crowd of faceless writers vying for the attention of publishers you have to approach it just right. You can do it. You can find a publisher:


Writers no longer doctors of the soul

"More than 60 years ago, literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote, "A specter haunts our culture — it is that people will eventually be unable to say, 'They fell in love and married,' let alone understand the language of 'Romeo and Juliet,' but will as a matter of course say 'Their libidinal impulses being reciprocal, they activated their individual erotic drives and integrated them within the same frame of reference.'" In the face of recent unbridled successes in neuroscience — which are nothing short of staggering — it would appear that Trilling's inevitable future is upon us, at least in the pages of our novels.

Austin Allen, associate editor at Big Think, wrote, "I believe it actually will become harder to speak of Faulkner's Jason Compson as 'evil' in a metaphysical sense — or as a raging but thwarted id, or an instrument of repressive patriarchy — rather than positing some kind of defect in his orbitofrontal cortex."

This all paints a dark future for the novel in the face of neuroscience. Aside from spawning a new literary trend, neuroscience threatens to suck the fun out of analyzing characters and speculating about their motives. Even worse than diminishing the fun of reading novels, neuroscience also threatens to undermine our favorite pastime as readers of novels: passing judgment. This poses the terrifying and compelling question: How will knowing our own brains affect literature?"

More: http://www.nyunews.com/opinion/2012/04/04/04adams/

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Literature helps you discover your identity

"Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories to recall characters and plot details. In fact, [...] neuroscientists have found plenty of proof that reading fiction stimulates all sorts of cognitive areas—not just language regions but also those responsible for coordinating movement and interpreting smells.

Because literary books "are" so mentally invigorating, and require such engagement, they make us smarter than other kinds of reading material, as a 2009 University of Santa Barbara indicated. Researchers found that subjects who read Kafka's "The Country Doctor"—which includes feverish hallucinations from the narrator and surreal elements—performed better on a subsequent learning task than a control group that read a straightforward summary of the story.

Literature doesn't just make us smarter, however; it makes us "us", shaping our consciences and our identities. Strong narratives [...] help us develop empathy. [...] individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them, and see the world from their perspective [...]

With empathy comes self-awareness, of course. By discovering affinities between ourselves and characters we never imagined we'd be able to comprehend (like the accused murderer Dimitri Karamazov), we better understand who we are personally and politically; what we want to change; what we care about defending."

More: http://m.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/03/a-slow-books-manifesto/254884/

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