The Case for Reading Fiction

I love this article from the Harvard Business Review! It’s another article documenting the neurological, psychological, and social benefits of reading fiction. There have been several such over the past few years.

The Case for Reading Fiction” by Christine Seifert
Published by Harvard Business Review, March 6, 2020

I love that we’re beginning to accept reading fiction as something that’s good for us on a deeper level than just entertainment and escapism (not that entertainment and escapism aren’t valuable in-and-of themselves!) Complex fiction builds empathy, connection, social intelligence, and theory of mind. It boosts creativity, both for new ideas and for problem solving. It improves our ability to grapple more productively with the complexity of the world we live in.

I love that businesses are beginning to realize the value of having employees who are educated beyond the requirements of job training.

And it’s not just reading fiction which presents these benefits: it can come from powerful storytelling in any format. Oral stories, theater, movies and television, music, visual arts. All of it, so long as it’s complex and nuanced. Stories are how we know who we are, how we’re both the same and different from one another, and how we relate to our world.

But this article also frustrates me. This is where I turn into a curmudgeon and tell you all:

I told you so!

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Visions of Leadership

My dad likes to tell a story about a man he knew who was the head of a college. Every summer, this man would take a weekend to go out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, all by himself, unconnected and alone. He brought along a blank notepad and a pen. On the top of the first page, he’d write, “Five Years.” He’d flip a few pages in and write “Ten Years” at the top of the page, and then “Twenty Years” a few pages later. He’d spend the weekend jotting down everything he could think of that he wanted the college to do in the next five-to-twenty years.

One summer, his weekend came to an end and he looked at his notepad. He had four or five things written on the “Five Years” page, just a couple things written on the “Ten Years” page, and nothing under “Twenty Years.” When he got back home, he tendered his resignation. He believed that if he didn’t have a vision for the organization, then he wasn’t the right person to lead it anymore.

This story worries me.

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Artists vs. Craftsmen, or: Why I’m Not Participating in NaPoWriMo This Year

I won’t be participating in NaPoWriMo this year. I waffled for the past couple of months as to whether or not I should. To explain why I’m not, I need to tell you about a recent revelation I had about myself:

I finally realized that I’m not actually a creative person. More importantly—I’m happy with that. I’m tired of feeling like I’m supposed to be creative when I’m clearly not.

To explain this revelation, I need to tell you a story about LEGO…

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When Protecting Creativity Stifles Creativity…

Our culture suffers. This is a problem.

Georgia Tech Research Finds Copyright Confusion has ‘Chilling Effects’ in Online Creative Publishing (posted by InfoDocket on December 15, 2014)

As libraries retool themselves into community hubs of content creation, patrons will need reliable information on copyright, Creative Commons, and other intellectual property rights structures.

Given the complexity and politicization of these rights in our society today, providing such guidance is a monumental task. But this study emphasizes that it would be an essential and useful service.

I’d love to see intellectual property rights librarians in every library!

SF as Psychological Exploration

I love this article exploring the connections between storytelling and memory:

What Novels Can Tell Us About Memory by Charles Fernyhough (posted on The Huffington Post on January 28, 2014)

We’re storytelling creatures, it’s built into the most essential processes of our consciousness. Storytelling and memory are how we define our identities—biological, individual, social, cultural.

As always, whenever I think about identity and storytelling, I think about why I love SF stories and novels.

I’ve long believed that SF (speculative fiction—scifi, fantasy, horror) offers the best venue for us to explore what it means to be human: biologically, personally, socially, culturally.

SF allows us to create situations as extreme as we can conceive, and then imagine how people might behave, react, adapt to them.

In trying to imagine beings that aren’t human at all—aliens, fantastical creatures, paranormal entities—the contrast throws into stark relief what it means to be human.

Consider how our sense of self must change when we imagine how we might be changed through science or magic: technological enhancements to our bodies; computer enhanced consciousness; bodiless consciousness; transfiguration. How must humanity be defined when we adapt ourselves to multiple worlds? When we transcend corporeality and become patterns of information in a matrix? When we exist across and outside of perceived linear time? When we can transform ourselves into other sorts of creatures?

When we radically alter the most basic elements of our existence, what’s left? What are the irreducible, essential things that make us human? How much can be changed—in ourselves, in our environment—before we stop being human?

How varied can human beings become and still be contained in humankind?

SF is one big thought experiment exploring the breadth and depth, the capacity and essence, the potential of human nature.

It’s said that art holds up a mirror to the world. SF allows us to create mirrors that are unlike anything else.

The Purpose of Human Imagination

The Internet Librarian International 2012 conference wrapped up yesterday. Perhaps the most widely circulated tweet from the conference came from Airport Librarian (@airprtlibrarian):

We have libraries because people need a place to dream. The collection is not the main goal. #ili2012

— Airport librarian(@airprtlibrarian) October 30, 2012

“People need a place to dream.” Yes!

[Edit: At the request of Airport Librarian, I’d like to credit David Lankes as the original source of the quote, from his keynote speech.]

The human ability to dream and to imagine is one that has fascinated me from a very early age. The scientist in me wonders: Why do we dream? What necessary function is served by our imagination?

Why do people need a place to dream?

I had an experience during my freshman year of college that informed my understanding of the purpose of imagination more than any other…
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On the Virtues of Limitations

I spend a lot of time thinking about limitations. As creative people, limitations constantly chafe. They’re perpetual thorns in our sides. We think to ourselves, “If only I had more time, more money, better resources, I’d be free to truly explore my ideas and realize unfettered creativity!”

But I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I think quite the opposite. I think that limitations – when approached from the correct perspective – can be one of the most powerful tools in a creative person’s arsenal.

OK, let me back up. Start over and give some context for that statement…
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