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Read More Fiction: Tastes Great, and it's Good for You!

Filed under: The Katharine Wheel: On Fiction   Tagged: , , ,

It's back-to-school time, so it seemed appropriate to link to an 81-book syllabus Donald Barthelme used to give out to his students. (It appears in the margins of a nice 2003 essay by Keith Moffett in The Believer about his experience of tackling the list.)

If that's too much for you, then I recommend you read Barthelme's hilarious and thought-provoking story "The School," which appeared in the June 17, 1974, issue of The New Yorker. In the story, a grade school class keeps adopting living things that then die. Yet there's enough uplift in the improbable, left-field ending to carry you through the rest of the school year. (Don't cheat and read the capsule summary on TNY's website—it's a spoiler.)

The story typifies what I love about Barthelme: his ability to explore serious topics with larky wit and surreal turns. Though I find him sometimes obscure, I vastly prefer his lightheartedness and unpredictability to the emotionally detached and/or humorless narrators who appear in contemporary TNY fiction with such regularity these days.

But evidently, reading TNY's fiction section is better for you than reading the nonfiction, at least when it comes to your social reasoning skills. Need proof? I quote from Liam Durcan's Toronto Globe and Mail article from July, which I found courtesy of Jonathan Shipley's blog, A Writer's Desk:

In a recent study conducted by University of Toronto psychologists, subjects who read a short story in The New Yorker had higher scores on social reasoning tests than those who had read an essay from the same magazine. The researchers concluded that there was something in the experience of reading fiction that made the subjects more empathetic (or at least take a test more empathetically). The study provided some proof for what has often been intuitively argued: Fiction is, in some very important ways, good for us.

To read the rest of Durcan's article, go here, but be prepared to fork over $4.95. If that's too rich for your blood, there's more detail here.

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