Reading one another: the insights of literary fiction

If you’ve ever been puzzled at the success of the latest “it” book and wondered what all the fuss is about or been saddened that no-one you know is as excited about the latest Peter Carey book as you are, you may be rattling about like a solitary dried pea in the lonely world of literary fiction love. It’s cold there, but still gratifying. You can always tell yourself that you are one of the cool kids. Well, the other day, I found another consolation for loving literary fiction. According to a recent study by two scholars at the New School for Social Research, David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, the complexities and ambiguities of literary fiction make readers better able to guess at the motivations, emotions and beliefs of the people around them. The study revealed that this benefit does not come with reading popular fiction, given its reliance on stereotypical and uncomplicated characters. Another study reveals that literary fiction strengthens the reader’s ability to tolerate uncertainty, a factor that allows one to think creatively and absorb contradictory ideas at the same time.

I have a profound admiration for scientists, and invite you to take a minute to read both articles about the respective studies, to dip into the world of ‘knowing’ and ‘quantifying’, before you sink your nose back into that book and are back to wandering (and wondering) once more.

Salon: Jonathan Franzen can help you read people.

Pacific Standard: Reading literature opens minds.