Monday, April 20, 2015

Does Reading Fiction Make Us Better People

I was in the bookstore the other day, and I noticed my tendency to gravitate toward the non-fiction section. That would seem pretty typical for the average man, as most studies indicate men tend to read more  non-fiction, while women are more likely to prefer novels. That's certainly true between my wife and me. And, of course, I try to balance my habits with both genres - currently, I am reading an Elmore Leonard novel Road Dogs (always a pleasure) and Ed Burns' new (sort of) memoir Independent Ed. That said, I just naturally gravitate toward Burns' easygoing story of his film career over the raucous crime drama of Leonard. Go figure.

However, I am a high school English teacher with a Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature. Teaching literary fiction is a way of life for me. Granted, I now only teach a section of "AP English Language & Comp," which is primarily focused on rhetoric and argumentation. Still, the class maintains a pretty heavy component of lit with works such as favorites like O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Of course, I have also added in some non-fiction with Lewis' Next: the Future Just Happened and Krakauer's Into the Wild.  But does it even matter?

Is fiction superior in any way to the non-fiction works? And is it necessary for us as human beings to read novels? Certainly, all those questions are extremes, and it's really not a question of necessity. However, as the reading public continues to shrink - at least in the sense of accessing grand literary works (ie. the classic novel), I wonder, as Marc O'Connel recently asks in a piece for Salon, "Does Reading Fiction Make You a Better Person?"

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