The implication is that nonfiction is a higher calling, that fiction is a frivolous pastime while nonfiction is a serious education. This has been a push-pull throughout the history of the novel, especially since early novels tended towards salacious or scandalous, more Danielle Steel than Ian McEwan.
Poet Samuel Coleridge, (1712 to 1835) stated his case thus:
I will run the risk of asserting that where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind: it is such an utter loss to the reader, that it is not so much to be called pass-time as kill-time. It…provokes no improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler powers of the understanding.
My brain must be a mawkish mess because I love a good novel (currently reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, thumbs up). I love nonfiction too, but the escape and emotional charge novels provide have always been preferable to me (unless we’re talking narrative nonfiction, like Erik Larson’s engaging histories or a book I recently read in practically one gulp, The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home).
So I was gratified to read this New York Times story about the neuroscience of reading fiction.
I’ve only just started reading the new book by fellow PyschCentral blogger Elisha Goldstein, and I’ve already found something useful.
Goldstein is a psychologist in private practice, and his excellent blog is about mindfulness. His book, The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life, is a manual for learning mindfulness. The book is short, quick-read chapters that leave you with lots to think about and try.
“See, Touch, Go” is the chapter that twanged a note in my brain–one image, in particular. Goldstein describes the See, Touch, Go method in an anecdote, through the words of a dog trainer trying to help a family frustrated by their rambunctious rescue dog.
“‘See, touch, go.’ When your mind begins to wander off onto all your worries and frustrations with this dog, see that your mind has wandered, touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond, and then gently go back to focusing on the training we’ve discussed.”
OK, so the dog trainer is beside the point. What got me is this:
Touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond.
I popped off at Laptop Dad, like he popped off at his daughter, like his daughter popped off at him. Interesting, huh? See how that works? Chain of fools.
I regret the tone but stand behind the content of my last post. So here’s a voice of reason to say it all better. Today’s guest post is by my friend Dr. Lara Mayeux, a developmental psychologist who studies kids’ peer relations at the University of Oklahoma, and mother of two young daughters (read about her wishes for them here).
If you want to read original research into parenting styles and child outcomes, Lara suggests looking for Nina Mounts (parenting and peer relationships); Joan Grusec (parenting and social and emotional development); Robert Larzelere (discipline and research methodology); Laurence Steinberg (adolescent development). Diana Baumrind is one of the pioneers in the study of parenting styles; a lot of subsequent research has been based on her work.
By Lara Mayeux
I have to get this off my chest: I’m really, really tired of seeing parents celebrated for their bad parenting choices.
Parenting is hard. I get that — I have two kids under the age of five. And none of us is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect each other to be. But there’s a big difference between allowing parents some room to screw up, and actually cheering them on when they’ve made a mistake. And I’m telling you, this laptop-shooting dad—he made a mistake.
I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life.
But the book taught me as much about myself as others.
Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life.
And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others.”
I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me.
And while I’ve been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.
Writing Real World Research has been fun and also a lot of work. I read a lot more research than I end up writing about. Academic writing is no easy read and I am eternally grateful to those researchers who manage to slip a little joke in here and there. Some papers are so dense that even if the topic is compelling, my eyes cross and I can’t hack my way through them. I have no one to blame but myself—I decided to focus this blog on research. Sometimes I hate myself for choosing a theme that so often forces me in way over my head.
Still, one of the perks of being a writer is that I get paid for finding out stuff I want to know. Reading and writing about research has taught me all kinds of useful things which, as the blog title suggests, I can take into the real world.
So to reflect on the past year, here is some of the stuff I learned writing Real World Research in 2011 that has been most useful to me.
My favorite is useful gifts. Socks, for example. A nice sweatshirt—nicer than I might buy myself. Something related to one of my hobbies. Food gifts are nice. They always fit and don’t take up space.
My least favorite is gift cards, which stress me out a little because then I have to decide what gift to buy myself. That’s a lot of pressure. And I’m at an age when tsotskes are a headache. I have a house full of stuff already. These are gifts I also rarely give.
Research has found that experiences make people happier than possessions. I like those, too. I don’t remember what gift my husband gave me on my last birthday, but I do remember the fun we had a baseball game that day. A festive dinner with friends is a gift in itself.
Gifts are interesting, when you really stop to think about them.
Dr. Dan Ariely, a Duke University researcher and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions has a nifty story in the Wall Street Journal about gift-giving.
Rational economists, he points out, think gifts are just like burning money.
I’ve recently started listening to audio books. The idea never appealed to me much because I’ve never liked being read to. Reading is a solitary experience for me and being read to always seemed a little icky, though I couldn’t tell you why.
Certainly being read to has a venerable history. At one time, all writing was meant to be read aloud, since few people could read. And reading aloud was family entertainment in the pre-radio, pre-TV days. And, of course, reading to children is both cozy and the first step towards their literacy.
So it’s not like listening to books is anything new. But downloadable audio books are increasingly popular (though the growing popularity of ebooks is the headline news in publishing.) Fans of audio books even have their own magazine.
The first audio book I listened to was Bossypants, which is read by Tina Fey herself. Now I’m listening to Never Let Me Go, by Kazua Ishiguro, which is beautifully read by Rosalyn Landor, who strikes a tone as wistful as the book and conveys changes of character with just the slightest change in her voice. Narration, I realize, is an art form unto itself.
But I’m still not sure how I feel about the audio book. It might be seducing me, but I worry about whether I’m having the experience of the book the author originally intended. Do we lose something of a novel when we don’t see the words spelled out in front of us? Is the medium integral to the message?
Much has been made in recent years of research indicating that willpower is an exhaustible resource. This research suggests that if we exercise self control for a few hours to resist Facebook and do our work, for example, we will have a hard time resisting that oh-really-I-shouldn’t brownie sundae. There’s a whole book based on this research: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is by one of the leaders in this research, Roy Baumeister. (With science writer John Tierney, because believe me, not all psychologists can write.)
But here’s an interesting article in an open source journal pointing out how research on willpower has mostly been done on youngsters.
Actually, no, it’s not. Research finds that this is, in fact, the case.
I recently wrote an article about self-promotion for GradPSYCH, an American Psychological Association publication, and what I learned was one big ol’ bummer.
Women face a double-bind. If they don’t promote themselves, they risk not getting ahead. But if women do promote themselves, they turn people off because self-promotion violates a stereotype. They are perceived as immodest.
Since I wrote this post, Frank Warren has had to withdraw the Post Secret app because people just couldn’t play nicely.
When Frank Warren launched the Post Secret blog in 2004, it was a lark. “A creative prank,” he calls it. He gave out 3,000 postcards to strangers around Washington D.C., and asked each person to write a secret on it and mail it to him. And they did. And people still do.
To date, Warren has received more than half a million secrets. Enough to fill four bestselling books (and then some). Once a week, he posts a carefully curated selection on the blog. Sunday Secrets is a highlight of my week.
Some of the cards are scrawled, many are works of art. The secrets are sad, funny, shocking, about love and sex, loneliness and anger, moral slips and personal habits.