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Read Better Books To Be a Better Person

timothy posted about 6 months ago | from the great-books-like-the-novelization-of-grand-theft-auto-5 dept.

Books 158

00_NOP writes "Researchers from the New School for Social Research in New York have demonstrated that if you read quality literary fiction you become a better person, in the sense that you are more likely to empathize with others [paper abstract]. Presumably we can all think of books that have changed the way we feel about the world — so this is, in a sense, a scientific confirmation of something fairly intuitive."

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158 comments

Nonsense. (5, Informative)

ornil (33732) | about 6 months ago | (#45108879)

It's a deeply flawed study. Basically, it's cherry-picking with a vengeance. There's a good discussion at Language Log: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=7715 [upenn.edu]

Re:Nonsense. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45108923)

How is that vote for Obama working out for you? Hmmm?

"Yes we can".

Re:Nonsense. (2, Interesting)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45108943)

Also, it seems to be a rather self-involved definition of "better person".

I could make the case that reading Ayn Rand's Fountainhead is a better indicator of being a "better person", than reading Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. And I could make that case without even agreeing with Rand's beliefs, or whether her method of storytelling is seriously flawed.

Re:Nonsense. (4, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 6 months ago | (#45109003)

For what it's worth, that was thrown on later by media uptake; the authors simply talk about theory of mind [wikipedia.org]. It is safe to assume Ayn Rand has a very small chance of fostering this in someone.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109455)

I read the intro paragraph, and the definition section. I can understand what the concept is, but a lot of it is beyond me. Also, as someone who has high-functioning autism (from before Asperger's syndrome was 'discovered'), a lot of the topics discussed are more or less foreign to me.

Thanks for clarifying what the study was about. And, having read the link, I agree with your conclusion about Rand in this case.

Re:Nonsense. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109041)

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109137)

Mod parent up!

Re:Nonsense. (-1, Troll)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109155)

Mod parent up!

For parroting something that someone else thought of? Something that required no mental activity other than Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, Submit?

Yeah, great way to emphasize my point about what makes you a "better person".

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109205)

For parroting something that someone else thought of?

So in your mind nobody should ever share great quotes? Thanks, buzzkill.

Re:Nonsense. (0)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109271)

No, I never said the person shouldn't share a great quote. I said the person doesn't deserve to be modded up for simply pasting a quote that someone else said.

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109339)

So it's really just a matter of your own taste then. Okay, fair enough, but what are we supposed to do with that information, buzzkill?

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109763)

Huh, that quote only dates back to 2009 [blogspot.com]. As much as I've heard it I figured it had its origin in the 80s. I wouldn't mod someone up for quoting it once again, myself. It's a bit overdone, to say the least.

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109579)

I have some problems with your argument. Firstly, moderation isn't about rewarding a person (although it can have benefits) but about engendering a better discussion. Secondly, since the person posted anonymously they will not receive any benefit from an up-mod.

The question isn't "does the person deserve to be modded up" but "Will modding this post up help the dissemination of ideas and engender good discussion?"

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109735)

The quotation marks were included for a reason.

And it's not a person, it's an anonymous post, therefore, no person will receive credit or reward for it.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 6 months ago | (#45109225)

Some of us enjoyed them both.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109247)

Some of us enjoyed them both.

But that's not the point of the quote.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109283)

Some of us enjoyed them both.

But that's not the point of the quote.

And what was the point of your quote?

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109349)

The point was "Was there a point to your quote?"

Re:Nonsense. (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109399)

Except none of you posts are in response to a quote from someone else.

Please learn to troll better. You're being a buzzkill.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109433)

Vendetta-posting... how quaint.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109511)

No, honestly. Your post refers to the previous post's quote, which doesn't exist. You are posting multiple sub-threads defending an AC's mindlessly-parroted quote, leading me to believe that AC was you. When I ask about "your quote" you don't correct me that you "haven't quoted anyone", which you, Freshly Exhumed, had not at that point. So, further proof you are the AC, defending yourproxyself.

If I am mistaken, and the AC isn't you, great. Doesn't matter in the big picture though, because you are still trolling, using the term "buzzkill" which I tossed back at you for fun.

Either way, to quote the great Vizzini, "It has worked! You've given everything away! I know where the poison is!"

Have I nice day. I'm off to the store now.

Re:Nonsense. (0)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 6 months ago | (#45109275)

The quote is idiotic and yet it gets repeated every time Ayn Rand is mentioned and seems to always get modded up. Obviously, neither book will read to an "emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood". No single book can ever do that.

Re:Nonsense. (2)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109355)

You haven't read Ayn Rand then.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 6 months ago | (#45109379)

I have but I don't understand why reading her book will have such effects. Can you explain it to me?

Re:Nonsense. (2)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109401)

I could, but I don't want to. See, I'm being selfish, which is supposedly virtuous, right?

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109419)

Got him on a technicality!

Re:Nonsense. (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 6 months ago | (#45109451)

You are not being selfish, you are being dishonest.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109463)

Honestly, I am being selfish.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 6 months ago | (#45109533)

You don't understand Ran'd philosophy (even if you had read her books, which I doubt) and you cannot explain why reading them would make you a emotionally stunted. Yet you claim that you can. That's dishonesty and, by the way, your dumb 'jokes' are not succeeding in covering up your ignorance.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109605)

My profit here is not in dollars and cents, but anyway I don't have to justify to anyone why I choose to engage or not in any profit-making activity, right? I therefore stand my ground and confirm that I am indeed being selfish.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

fritsd (924429) | about 6 months ago | (#45109431)

I think I could give it a try, but you'd have to pay me first, otherwise it would be immoral.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

shrikel (535309) | about 6 months ago | (#45109513)

No single book can ever do that.

Of course, LotR is really three books... (Or six. Or seven. (Depending on how you count them.))

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109703)

LOTR is the worst book I stopped reading midway. The story is good but the writing is plain awful and boring.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109741)

LOTR is the worst book I stopped reading midway. The story is good but the writing is plain awful and boring.

What is the best book you stopped reading halfway?

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109875)

Can't speak for the other AC, but...

The Silmarilion is so bad it's good! Like LOTR, but much worse.

Re:Nonsense. (3, Interesting)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109143)

Wow, multiple mods of "Troll" to counter the upmods from people who can actually read context.

I never said Ayn Rand was a good person, or that her books embodied 'truth', or that her books were an enjoyable read. In fact, in several prior posts I have stated the exact opposite positions.

But as far as the premise that choosing what books you read makes you a better person, I can still state that choosing her works over Dickens is not necessarily a detractor.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

SteveFoerster (136027) | about 6 months ago | (#45109711)

We the Living was pretty good. And Anthem is so short it doesn't matter. But the others... yeah I read them, but usually don't recommend them.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109255)

Two names guaranteed to start /. modding wars: Bill Gates and Ayn Rand.

Re:Nonsense. (5, Insightful)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 6 months ago | (#45109663)

Rand was broken by the Bolsheviks as a girl, and she never left their bootprint behind. She believed her philosophy was Bolshevism's opposite, when in reality it was its twin. Both she and the Soviets insisted a small revolutionary elite in possession of absolute rationality must seize power and impose its vision on a malleable, imbecilic mass. The only difference was that Lenin thought the parasites to be stomped on were the rich, while Rand thought they were the poor.

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2009/11/how_ayn_rand_became_an_american_icon.html [slate.com]

Sounds to me that she was a sad, drug addicted nut who was overly influenced by her rough childhood, and any nut can write books. Doesn't make them right (see: L.Ron Hubbard).

Re:Nonsense. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109765)

There's a wonderful little joke in my language, and it comes from a time of being a peoples republic:
Capitalism is humans exploiting other humans. Communism is the reverse of that.

Re:Nonsense. (2)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 6 months ago | (#45109939)

"a sad, drug addicted nut who was overly influenced by her rough childhood". Sounds like a good description of a fair few writers out there. Seriously though, even if Rand wanted to impose her vision using methods similar to the Bolsheviks, you'd also have to compare her vision with theirs to make any sort of meaningful comparison between the two.

I've read some of Rand's books when I was 14 or so, and they did change my life. Not because they are such great books or because I agree with her philosophy, but because up to that age, most of the books you'll read will be your school books, and many of those books (as well as the teachers) extol the virtues of, for lack of a better word, socialism. (I'm talking about education in the Netherlands here, and no, I am not kidding. YMMV per school, though). After all that indoctrination it was a big surprise to find a book describing an outlook on life more closely matching my own views. Rand's books aren't amongst the better books that I've read, but they are amongst the books that made me a better person, and even if I discarded many of her views later on, they did get me interested in politics and philosophy in general.

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109113)

Thanks for the link. Looks like total lack of random sampling, both for the people, and for the books. Thus this does not generalize to other people, or other books.

Also, tiny sample sizes, multiple testing and loads of other problems.

Re:Nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109257)

I assumed as much.

Most of what the general public considers as good qualities in a person are usually adherence to social norms and corporate anti-shoplifting policies.

In general (and this is based only on my experiences) people of low to average intelligence consider me a very evil person. And people of very high intelligence don't make the distinction between good and evil with regards to people at all.

Re:Nonsense. (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 months ago | (#45109561)

And if you read Slashdot too often, you become an argumentative, brain-dead stunted fellow who can't see anything but flaws, in anything.

Re:Nonsense. (2)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#45109975)

Well... papers exist to be ripped apart by other scholars. The initial claims and counter-claims are bound to be the most obvious ones, the ones that turn on simple issues rather than abstruse ones. So it's no surprise that the initial criticism seems to have caught the authors with their methodological pants down. It's better to let a few rounds of point/counterpoint run before drawing any firm conclusions.

The study seems to belong to subfield of social pyschology which has become somewhat controversial -- priming [wikipedia.org]. The way priming studies go is that the study population is divided into two groups, one of which gets a treatment which the experimenter thinks will affect his subsequent judgment, another of which gets a placebo treatment. A test is then administered to each group, and if there is significant difference the author makes claims about what that means.

The ways this can go wrong are legion. The experimenter can choose a treatment that can't demonstrate what he wants to claim (e.g. the stories he chooses don't qualify as "literary fiction"). He can choose a placebo that has unwanted effects (e.g., a story that actually primes its readers to be stupider). He can be biased in his administration of the test. He can get a significant result simply by chance (1/20 studies will do this). The experimental results my be real, but his interpretation unsupportable (e.g., the psychoanalyst who did a study of the different mannerisms of male and female smokers, and interpreted the difference as supporting the concept of "penis envy").

A single experiment never proves anything.

And this is news? (0)

mendax (114116) | about 6 months ago | (#45108881)

I've always thought that this was the case. However, I think it might be an example of the "chicken or the egg" problem. Is it you become a better person because you read good books, or do better people automatically read better books? For myself, I would much prefer to read a Charles Dickens' novel than any of the schlock produced by Dan Brown, although I have read both. ;-)

Re:And this is news? (4, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | about 6 months ago | (#45108931)

Read the article, it was a randomized study in which people were assigned to read specified books selected beforehand by the experimenters.

Re:And this is news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109131)

it all stinks of a FEMA ploy

Re:And this is news? (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109375)

It would be news if it was on the front page of the National Enquirer with a headline like "Your Favorite Book Tells Your Personality!"

Correlation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45108883)

... or causation ?

Re:Correlation (1)

RevGregory (585273) | about 6 months ago | (#45108917)

...or reverse causation. It wouldn't strike me as odd at all if people who have already developed the qualities espoused by a certain type of literature would enjoy reading that sort of literature. In fact, it makes a hell of a lot more sense than the reverse.

Empathy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45108897)

Is not quantifiable. This is just more nonsense "social" research wasting good money.

Better books? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45108899)

The last book I read was "The Prince," so fuck you asshole!

Re:Better books? (1)

Daniel Oom (2826737) | about 6 months ago | (#45109787)

People who bought Macchiavelli, also bought Marquis de Sade. P.S. I guess reading Tolkien helped my to empathise with Orcs.

Quality (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45108933)

And now said researcher please tell me what "quality literary fiction" is.

One thing is certain: this is not quality reseach.

Re:Quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109287)

Not Harry Potter or Ender's Game.

I don't read shit you assholes! (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45108945)

Go fuck yourselves.

I became a better person... (-1, Troll)

Mr. Firewall (578517) | about 6 months ago | (#45108967)

... when I read Atlas Shrugged and learned to empathize with others a lot LESS.

Re:I became a better person... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109153)

... when I read Atlas Shrugged and learned to empathize with others a lot LESS.

Actually that was when you really started to enjoy sucking nigger cock covered in shit.

You know you love it.

On your knees, you subservient little muffin.

What does that say about America? (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 6 months ago | (#45109023)

Interestingly enough, while many literary typse laud the New York Times or the Washington Post, the most popular 'news' paper in America is the National Enquirer. With most folks reading that, no wonder there is a lack of empathy (or thought or insight) in American politics today.

Or is this just another story about how reading comments on the internet just dumbs us down even more (assuming empathy is a good thing)?

Re:What does that say about America? (2)

ledow (319597) | about 6 months ago | (#45109101)

Junk tabloids are always more popular. In the UK, it's the Sun and the Mail and the Mirror and the Sport, etc.

The same way that the most popular shows on TV don't have much in the way of thinking involved - celeb shows and "reality" TV.

The barrier to entry is lower, so more people consume them. Unfortunately, it's pretty much a one-way downhill run from there.

You have to wonder what we're teaching our kids, especially in the celebrity areas. Let's all consume trivial information about people who got rich by not being able to sing but they can wiggle their ass suggestively.

Re:What does that say about America? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 6 months ago | (#45109675)

Is the National Enquirer a junk tabloid? They offer a lot of worthless "famous people news" (not really any worse than E!...), but the do also occasionally break actual newsworthy stories. At least one that the vaunted New York Times knew about and had decided not to report on.

Choosing not to report something because of a political agenda is one of the most insidious, vile things a news organization can do.

Up to date information... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109031)

From 2 weeks ago.

I Read Starship Troopers... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109077)

Now I want to kill all the Bugs and blow up their planet...

I Also Read Starship Troopers... (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#45109235)

I want to kill Paul Verhoeven and blow up his house.

It's the least he deserves for what he did.

Re:I Also Read Starship Troopers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109681)

The movie may not have been a straight adaptation of the book, but it was the movie that the book deserved.

Crime rates plotted against 50 Shades sales? (1)

MysteriousPreacher (702266) | about 6 months ago | (#45109091)

Did the authors plot crime rates against sales of 50 Shades of Grey and similar "literature"? If so, they just might be on to something.

Hoping it wasn't true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109161)

All I ever read is Slashdot. I'm afraid it's turned me into something of an insensitive clod.

Re:Hoping it wasn't true... (1)

fritsd (924429) | about 6 months ago | (#45109817)

All I ever read is Slashdot. I'm afraid it's turned me into something of an insensitive clod.

Well, in my personal view, you're still better off as an insensitive clod, than as an insensitive pebble [wikisource.org].

N.B.: maybe this poem is accidentally on-topic as well!

Twilight.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109171)

So.. if reading quality works makes you a better person.. ..what does reading Twilight novels make you?

Re:Twilight.. (2)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#45109757)

I actually read *Twilight* to see what all the fuss was about. And if you read with a sufficiently open mind, you can see what the fuss is all about. Meyer is a gifted writer. What she is *not* is a technically proficient writer -- at least in her debut novel. She offers little that will lure you in if you aren't square in the novel's target demographic, and plenty that will put you off if you aren't immediately swept up in the spell. Her handling of dialogue is particularly painful for the non-fan.

Yes, you can boil the attraction of Twilight down to a simple formula, but if you think that's all there is to it, then go write your own 118 thousand word novel with the formula and watch the millions of dollars roll in. It's not that simple. It takes a special talent to make the formula work.

Overall, reading *Twilight* made me sad, because the book could have been so much better. It needed the services of developmental editor, and a tough one at that. If they'd invested a few thousand more dollars up front they might have widened the market for the book. Instead they got a massive anti-*Twilight* backlash. A strong editor would have made a lot of those *Twilight* haters into fans.

Some do, some don't (3, Informative)

Dr. Winston O'Boogie (196360) | about 6 months ago | (#45109175)

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the 'social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford

s/books/stories/ (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 6 months ago | (#45109445)

Books, songs, movies, comics, oral tradition, news, all of that brings a story with them, one were you can identify with it, recognize as a pattern, and use that pattern to seek a guidance for our actions to get a better outcome. They also draws a picture in how other people (should) think, the more clear is that picture, the better the concept is assimilated by us, and books usually have a bigger extent on showing how characters think and feel, but is not something exclusive of them. But books probably have the bigger set of good ones with different stories and good character exploration , even if copyrights are making a big portion of them almost invisible [theatlantic.com] (and is important to see the vision of the world of previous cultures)

Non-fiction? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109503)

It seems that non-fiction would have a similar effect as well, no? If you read non-fiction for growth in knowledge or wisdom you have bettered yourself as well.

What makes a better person? (1)

#HashTagDeals (3395531) | about 6 months ago | (#45109535)

Empathy is good an all but I dont think its the leading quality to becoming a better person. I argue that becoming self sufficient (ie not a burden) makes one a better person because then one wouldn't have to depend on other's empathy.

Re:What makes a better person? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109611)

Empathy is good an all but I dont think its the leading quality to becoming a better person. I argue that becoming self sufficient (ie not a burden) makes one a better person because then one wouldn't have to depend on other's empathy.

Human beings are social animals. In social interactions, there are times when showing weakness or need helps to build a closer relationship with your peers, strengthening the group overall and leading to better outcomes for everyone. Some kind going off and living in a log cabin on his own so that he doesn't require anything from anyone, is not what human beings evolved to do.

Re:What makes a better person? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109809)

And your point is... what, exactly? It's perfectly possible to not do something (e.g. have children, be social, etc.) even if we evolved to do so; there is no evolution god that commands any of these things of us, and it's perfectly possible to not do them if you don't want to. Your comment is 100% meaningless.

Vanish, defeatist. Oh, and what qualifies as "better" is subjective.

Re:What makes a better person? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109813)

Empathy is good an all but I dont think its the leading quality to becoming a better person. I argue that becoming self sufficient (ie not a burden) makes one a better person because then one wouldn't have to depend on other's empathy.

Human beings are social animals. In social interactions, there are times when showing weakness or need helps to build a closer relationship with your peers, strengthening the group overall and leading to better outcomes for everyone. Some kind going off and living in a log cabin on his own so that he doesn't require anything from anyone, is not what human beings evolved to do.

It has always seemed strange to me...The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Re:What makes a better person? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45109769)

Self-sufficiency doesn't really exist. And the number of places where one could live as a self-sufficient recluse is rapidly dwindling. Most people today don't even have the option and it is unclear if any significant number of people would want to live such a life. Living your self-sufficient life you cannot really help anyone or be there for anyone; it's like you don't exist at all. And out of all things friends in trouble need, perhaps surprisingly to you, money or other concrete help usually isn't in the number 1 spot. It's the listening ear of someone who can empathise.

Re:What makes a better person? (1)

AlphaWoIf_HK (3042365) | about 6 months ago | (#45109899)

Self-sufficiency doesn't really exist.

To varying to degrees, it does.

And the number of places where one could live as a self-sufficient recluse is rapidly dwindling.

Not really. There are still plenty of places you could go where no one would probably find you, but I'm not sure how many people would even desire such a thing.

Living your self-sufficient life you cannot really help anyone or be there for anyone; it's like you don't exist at all.

Except for the fact that you do exist. Not everyone cares about helping others or being there for others, though, and I suspect that's the sort of person who would move to a remote location alone.

I find the whole basis of this flawed. (1)

astro (20275) | about 6 months ago | (#45109613)

The way this is set up, it relies at its foundation on a purely subjective concept - what is "quality" literature? I consider myself well read, and empathetic. But my favorite literature, which meets my personal criteria for quality, was written by authors like William S. Burroughs, Mickey Spillane and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Not exactly a collection of empaths or good citizens by standard definitions.

Re:I find the whole basis of this flawed. (1)

Peter H.S. (38077) | about 6 months ago | (#45109955)

The way this is set up, it relies at its foundation on a purely subjective concept - what is "quality" literature? I consider myself well read, and empathetic. But my favorite literature, which meets my personal criteria for quality, was written by authors like William S. Burroughs, Mickey Spillane and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Not exactly a collection of empaths or good citizens by standard definitions.

Quality literature is what influential readers reach a inter-subjective conclusion about. So it isn't a law of nature, nor are there objective ways to deduce whether a work is quality literature or not. Still, assuming that not every piece of literature is of quality, and one cannot ever hope to read even a fraction of the books ever written, one has to rely on the taste of other influential readers and writers to shift through the masses of books. The system actually work in its own peculiar way.

All 3 authors you mention are widely regarded as good writers that produced some quality literature.

Notice that the empathy developing ability of reading quality literature, isn't about being nice, or reading nice works by nice authors (Celine as a person was an arrogant anti-semtic asshole by all accounts).

Empathy isn't about feeling sorry for someone, but to understand their situation as they themselves see it. So literature allows the impossible, namely to "see" into a foreign mind and see how it operates, to follow its logic or lack thereof. Literature trains the mind in the reading of other minds, and to see things from their perspective, even if you disagree strongly with it.

Fiction is of course fiction, and the mind William S. Burroughs conjure in "Junkie" is just a fictional construction despite its semi-biographical nature. Still, after reading it you may think that you actually better understand the mind of a unredeemed drug addict, something you may never have experienced in your real life.

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