I am launching a novel during a time of numerous distracting stories in the news (so how about a distraction from the distractions, hmm?) I am also launching it in the midst of a series of news stories about the health benefits of literary fiction! Not pomegranates, not ab squats, but—literary fiction! Those of us who read it don’t have to be told, but it turns out there are good reasons why literary fiction became such a historically revered commodity in the first place. It has all kinds of practical benefits!
An article from early October, 2013, tells us that reading literary fiction allows us to be more perceptive to the unspoken thoughts of others. It’s not about ESP, though it is similar to the kind of thing that enables psychic performers to dazzle us by seeming to know us so well. It’s about noticing the little things, the “tells” that everyone has. It makes me wonder if consuming literary fiction might lead to a more highly advanced breed of poker player.
It is fascinating to note that the same benefit was not observed in those who only read formulaic, churned-out, mass-market fiction. Not as much attention to detail goes into those books. Not as much work goes into subtle descriptions and moods. The characters of mass market “popular” fiction tend to be a little flatter. They are more like cardboard cut-outs compared to the rich, detailed personalities of literary novels.
This past summer the Atlantic had a piece that summed up some other articles on whether literary fiction leads to higher morals. The verdict seems to be no, but it does humanize us in other ways. Consuming high quality literature, as opposed to only literary junk-food, elevates us. It has a civilizing effect. Sadly, some people are afraid of such things, being more comfortable with the cynical view of human beings as eternally hopeless. The studies of people who read literary fiction dispute that worldview.
Another recent article tells of physical brain benefits from good reads. The MRIs of avid readers show that the entire brain “lights up” from imagining the characters and scenes in literature. This mental exercise is like no other. The linguistic section of the brain is huge, of course. The theory is that reading is a superb way to combat the onset of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders.
I was happy to see that I had independently come up with some of these same ideas in a blog last week. But they should be plain to see, really. Now what’s needed is to identify some of the things that are keeping literary fiction in the “ivory tower,” and not warmly received by the masses. The snob aspect has to go. It is good only for discouraging wider acceptance of literary fiction, and maybe for providing a weird ego-trip for some practitioners of the literary arts.
Certainly not all classical literature was written in rarefied settings. Dostoyevsky wrote some of his works in prison! Dickens was apparently well acquainted with the Dickensian world. Hemingway provided plenty of macho material for those who are concerned that reading might diminish their manhood. There are writers for every taste. People who don’t like to read probably have not found the right author.
Going forward, lets all contribute to expanding the acceptance of literary fiction.