Sunday, September 04, 2016

Reading is a pain ... but then, no pain means no gain?

As I have often remarked in this blog, reading great works of literature help me with trying to understand the "other," which is pretty much everybody other than me.  In the process, I begin to understand myself too.

I have also blogged often that my intuitive, personal-observation-based, view is that despite the fact that we are more educated than ever before, we are reading less of literature.  It is understandable--reading works of literature--even a short story in the New Yorker is way more work than watching a football game or a movie.  I.e., reading literature is not entertainment.

Which is why I am not surprised with this news about a "troubling trend: We’re increasingly less likely to read literature."
The NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] does not offer an explanation for this finding, though the release of the rise of movies and other visual content on demand — which started in the 1980s with the VCR — is one likely culprit. After all, why read a novel when you have Netflix?
Yep, am not surprised one bit.  Every once in a while, in my classes, I ask students about the novels that they have read outside of those that were required in their schooling.  If they are English majors, then their hands go up.  (But, those English majors are often quiet when the discussions lean towards the sciences.  It is the old Two Cultures issue!)

But, hey, we Oregonians are yet better than most others in the country:
The percentage of people who read literature also varied considerably from state to state. Between 58 and 60 percent of Oregon, Colorado, and Montana residents reported doing so, compared to only 37.5 percent of Texans.
Frankly, I am shocked that even 37.5 percent in Texas do ;)

Reading and empathy work together:
“Habitual engagement with others’ minds — even fictional ones” can bolster the sort of awareness that is essential for empathy, write psychologists David Kidd and Emanuele Castano of the New School for Social Research. Their study is published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.
Come on, tell me something I didn't know already! ;)

But then comes the tricky question:
Could it be that skimming Danielle Steele produces the same insights as devouring Dostoyevsky?
Ahem, methinks it is a crime to include Danielle Steele in the same sentence with Fyodor Dostoyevsky!

Thankfully, the research did not elevate Steele's status.  Phew!

So ... from the vast world of literature, what would you like to read next?


Ramesh said...

Some Texan is going to come and obliterate you. Go get yourself a Kalashnikov :)

I would extend reading to not just literature, but about anything that will make you think, consider issues and analyse. It could be anything. Why not Gawande, for eg ?

Although I will draw the line at Nabokov. I would rather migrate to Texas than read him :):)

Anne in Salem said...

Ramesh, I'll join you in Texas.

I completely understand the appeal of simple entertainment. When one is living paycheck to paycheck or caring for ill parents or worried about a child's health or all three at once, one isn't going to pick up Nabokov. One will turn to the easy entertainment of Netflix or ESPN or even Danielle Steele. When one wants to escape the difficulties of reality, one doesn't want to face difficulties in one's entertainment. If someone is working two jobs, do you really think he's going to pick up Secondhand Time in his spare time?

Can we learn from all reading or only from great literature? Certainly we learn from all reading. The characters may not be a fully developed and the wording may be more banal, but the feelings and responses generated are the same. Even a story in the newspaper can evoke an empathetic reaction at times.

What would I like to read next? I read A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh on vacation. It was okay. I figured I'd try another by him so started Brideshead Revisited. UGH. No empathy there. I was more than happy to drop that when I found a collection of five MFK Fisher books last month. That will keep me sated for weeks. Not fiction, but certainly delicious reading, pun intended. I have enjoyed every page so far. Maybe Portrait of a Lady after that. It's been calling for some time.

Mike Hoth said...

I need to read Moby Dick again, now that I understand where the author was writing from. My first attempt at doing so was slowed considerably by my constant need to put the book down, find a list of old sailing terms and determine what Ishmael is talking about. There are a lot of old nautical terms in that dusty tome!

In defense of young people everywhere, I must make the heretical claim that video games can be art just as much as literature is. Some games engage us with a fictional character and cause us to think about their position, to empathize with them. Players get upset when the protagonist they've come to know and love is hurt, physically or emotionally. Some people who don't read novels are playing the games that force us to think beyond ourselves.

Sriram Khé said...

I can the possibility of video games developing a sense of empathy--if those video games are not about killing with most horrendous weapons, grand theft, ... and most games are designed only for those, right?
Yes, I too would like to read Moby Dick ... hmmm ... maybe next summer.

Yes, nonfiction too can help us develop a sense of empathy, just as news items can. But, it all depends on which nonfiction and which news items we read. If we read Cosmo for tips on the nine best ways to please one's man, well, that is cultivating a human emotion for sure, but not empathy ;)

I agree with you folks that people look for entertainment when their daily lives are full of struggles. But, whether it is a secular Socratic approach or an orthodox religious teaching, the great thinkers advise us common people to examine our lives and not merely seek entertainment.

Most read this past month