02 Dec 2013

Another Good Reason
to Read Literary Fiction

2 Comments Personal Thoughts, What You Should Read

DuomodiSienaApr2013A recent article published in Science made an interesting distinction between two types of fiction: “Readerly–such as most popular genre fiction–is intended to entertain their most passive readers. Writerly–or literary texts–engage their readers creatively as writers.” In other words, literary fiction requires active participation and encourages ‘a vibrant discourse with the author and the characters.’

The researchers move beyond this distinction in their study. They hypothesize, and subsequently establish, that because literary fiction “is replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration,” readers develop a greater capacity to understand the emotions of others.

This is quite a benefit for readers of literary fiction and may also explain why book groups are so popular. Not only do the members explore the fiction independently, the interaction with other readers reinforces the connection with the text. Perhaps a future study could examine the heightened empathy of readers who participate in book clubs. In the meantime, it is worth reading the study and sharing the findings with your groups (citation is below).

We took the opportunity to examine the study in tandem with our conversation of Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light. This novel is a writerly text and offers the reader multiple opportunities for engagement. The characters are compelling and interesting, and the setting is remarkable. While there is much despair in this small seaside village in Haiti, Danticat’s prose is beautiful and hopeful.

Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times wrote, “The perennial subjects in Danticat’s fiction and nonfiction—the weight of Haiti’s violent history, its extreme poverty and the diaspora that they have created—are addressed indirectly, through the stories of Claire and her family and neighbors in this small town where everyone knows everybody else. There is something fablelike about these tales; the reader is made acutely aware of the patterns of loss and redemption, cruelty and vengeance that thread their way through these characters’ lives, and the roles that luck and choice play in shaping their fate . . . Writing with lyrical economy and precision, Danticat recounts [their] stories in crystalline prose that underscores the parallels in their lives.”

We highly recommend Danticat’s latest novel as well as her earlier fiction. She makes an important contribution to contemporary literature. Let us know what you think of the Science article and the novel by posting a comment on our blog.

*David Comer Kidd And Emanuele Castano. Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of MindScience, October 2013

written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.

2 Comments for“Another Good Reason
to Read Literary Fiction”

  1. Reply Jose Grave de Peralta says:

    “The play’s the thing,
    with which to catch the conscience
    of the King!” —-

    Yes, Hamlet says it best.

    In fact, in this famous speech, the Prince of Denmark
    is wisely pointing out the force of
    a narrative make-belief
    (a play performed for all to see,
    by a troupe of actors
    who arrive at Hamlet’s Castle, providentially,
    just when he is racking his brains
    on how to make his uncle confess
    to Hamlet’s father’s murder!).

    And though most of us readers of fiction have no murder
    to confess — that we know of! —
    when we read a novel or short story
    of literary fiction, we can in fact receive “darts” from
    it, we can feel addressed,
    and have our conscience somehow
    caught by the players in these stories.

    This is why certain books and shorter stories
    become milestones for us, why they can
    speak to us in the deeper interstices
    of our heart.

  2. Reply Lisa says:

    What a poetic and apt post. Indeed, fiction speaks to the ‘deeper interstices of our heart,’ and may I dare say emboldens our friendships.

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