Friday, 5 April 2013

Why do we read fiction?

Can reading literature make doctors better doctors was one of the questions posed at a 'Dissecting Edinburgh' event last month. It made me think of James Wood's How Fiction Works where he describes how in 2006 a Mexican municipal president decided that his police force should be prescribed reading certain novels - One Hundred Years of Solitude was on the list -  to make them 'better citizens'. And psychologist Keith Oatley speaks of fiction as a 'kind of simulation that runs on minds', and argues that novels can help us understand the world better. I'm not sure if  doctors *can* 'learn' empathy from fiction (I tend to think you've got empathy or you haven't) but  it's certainly  interesting to think of why we read rather than the more often discussed why we write. Both questions are answered by Portugese writer Fernando Pessoa: 'Literature is proof that life is not enough'. (I came across this gorgeous quote a couple of months ago in Pascal Garnier author's note in The Panda Theory. It is often in my head now.)

I happened the day before yesterday to be reading the quaint and bizarre short story 'Rab and His Friends' (1859) by Scottish doctor John Brown  featured at the Dissecting Edinburgh event - Rab is the name of a dog belonging to a man whose wife has incurable cancer - when I learned that Iain Banks is terminally ill. I had a lump in my throat. I remember reading The Wasp Factory in a friend's flat in Aberdeen in eighties. And how crazy we all were for The Crow Road in the nineties. I recall it was dramatised too. Such sad, sad news.


Crafty Green Poet said...

Maybe someone should do an experiment with doctors and see whether a prescription of good relevant literature could make them more understanding....

Thanks for the link to Rab and his friends, I would like to read it again after hearing it the other day.

And yes very sad about Iain Banks, Crafty Green Boyfriend knows his partner, it must be very difficult for her.

LottieP said...

Agree, it's terrible news. The Wasp Factory was inspirational to anyone who loved books growing up in the 1980s in Scotland. Speaking our language.