Yesterday I got into some Facebook sparring with a good friend, whose “sin” was to cite a new novel as evidence that the world was getting worse. I was pretty dismissive. Fiction, Richard??? I told him.
Well, Robert Sapolosky just put me in my place. Sapolsky, a Stanford professor (and hilarious lecturer), is one of my favorite scientists. At some later date I’ll discuss his “A Natural History of Peace” essay that demonstrates that even male baboons can be pacified (and that’s saying a lot given their NYC-taxi-driver-on-crystal-meth temperament). Anyway, check out his Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s LA Times about how fine literary fiction can develop theory of mind, a critical component of empathy. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-sapolsky-theory-of-mind-20131229,0,2431766.story#ixzz2otWelVB8
Is there a work of literature that had a particularly strong impact on you, especially vis a vis how you see the world through someone else’s eyes? My first thought is The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. It’s funny that I’ve picked Mayor as it is a typically tragic Hardy novel. Despite his good intentions, Michael Henchard (the main character) spirals downward. I hated the good-natured Donald Farfrae and preferred the doomed Henchard. I read the book during the summer before senior year in high school, and it gave me some inkling of how decisions in adulthood (which was fast approaching) could have life-altering, inevitable consequences. Quite depressing stuff, but it stuck with me.