Why do you read books? Is it to be transported into a different time and place? To learn something or sharpen a skill set via non-fiction? Mindless entertainment? A bit of titillation a la Erotica?
Or are you one of the new masses, who don’t read books at all?
I read all the time. Often other people’s manuscripts, as I’m editing those, but I squeeze in great novels in between. You might be like me and read eclectically, or, hone in on one genre (which is mostly the way).
And even though I do read a bit of everything (heavy on the “bit”), when doing so for pleasure, give me a Literary novel any day.
When I talk to folks about reading (which of course I do anywhere and any time, especially when I see someone with a book in her lap), they often say they devour this author, or that genre. And it doesn’t take long to ferret out that’s pretty much all they read.
We’re drawn to the things we love, no?
And so many people tell me they don’t read Literary because it’s too high brow. Too difficult to wade through. Or just plain not entertaining enough.
This puzzles me. I must confess, although I try—truly I do!—to understand this criticism, I just don’t see it.
Because a great novel, well written, by a writer at the top of her game, includes all the things listed in the first paragraph. And then so much more.
Before the advent of all this technology, people read. Of course, that’s been steadily dropping for a while now. According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, “A Decade of Arts Engagement,” in 2012, 55 percent of adults read at least one book in the previous year, which wasn’t required for work or school. Far more women than men read books and/or literature. And the age group most likely to read books and literature is the 65-74 age range. Whether they have more time to read, or grew up reading and never quit, well, that’s up in the air.
Many recent studies have shown the benefits of reading fiction. And these are meaningful reasons.
Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto, a novelist, and the author of a new review in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, sums this up nicely:
"People who read more fiction were better at empathy and understanding others."
And this effect is especially prevalent with Literary Fiction.
I’ve thought that all my life. But it’s always nice to have studies to back it up.
Isn’t that in itself enough to encourage everyone to read more? Couldn’t we all, especially in this tumultuous day and time, use a little more understanding and empathy?
And it’s a factor in why I love Lit Fic. Understanding—truly understanding—what makes other folks tick is a fascination of mine. It has changed the way I see the world, absolutely for the better.
When you glimpse under the veil of the “other” in your midst, he isn’t so other after all . . .
I talk about books I love often, and have done so via these posts as well. I love the literary greats of our time, love the insights they create over 400 pages, love the cadence to their voices, the characters they create.
Now, Patchett isn’t a barely known writer, as I often write about, but a NY Times bestselling author, and this one hit #1 as well.
What she is, however, is a brilliant author at the very top of her game. The prose is exquisite, equal parts poignancy and humor. The weaving of the storyline, back and forth, executed with such style and grace.
The family secret—one of collaboration by the kids of the blended household—is horrible indeed.
But that’s not what you’re left with. Rather, what sings through these pages is how we bond, with whom we bond, and an understanding of why we do so, in all of our flawed glory.
Now, how can you pass that up? How is this not entertainment of the highest kind?
Does it take an investment not only of time, but of mental acuity as well? Yep. This isn’t like watching a sitcom.
But ahhhhh, the benefits.
Manna from the gods.
So how about it? What if you tried just one Literary novel a year? Just one. I can give you a list J
With all the benefits, and all the enjoyment, it’s a full-circle win.
As Ann Patchett said:
“Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone. It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we've never met, living lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character's skin.”
What have you read lately?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.