I was very happy to see this review in the New Scientist of Keith Oatley’s Such Stuff as Dreams, particularly after reading Rick Gekoski’s curmugeonly take on how writing makes us worse, and reading isn’t much better.
It seems to me that while the act of reading is immediately isolating–noses in our books, we enter a cozy cocoon in the middle of the hectic world–it can also lead to a far more open and generous view of life. Humans are almost unique among animals for our ability to learn not only from our own experiences, but from the experiences of others; and what better ingress to others’ experiences than novels and stories, which let us inhabit minds that would otherwise be alien to us?
I’ll give Mr. Gekoski his due: isolating ourselves to read and write can lead to cantankerous and anti-social tendencies, but really no more so than any other intense and private activities. When I think of many of my favorite books and writers–Thomas Williams’ Leah, New Hampshire; Andre Dubus’ Voices From the Moon; anything by Alice Munro–I’m struck by their generosity and benevolence. And whether or not these writers were always generous in their personal lives–Mr. Dubus, surely, had his flaws–their work can inspire their readers to be a little kinder, a little more understanding, a little more forgiving.