Saturday, October 5, 2013

On Book Clubs, Literary Fiction, and Independent Bookstores

I have a number of book review to post, but I thought I might take a moment to add a few miscellaneous book notes.  First, while I was in Southern Pines last weekend on a retreat with my writing group, we went to the sixtieth anniversary celebration of The Country Bookshop downtown.  Entering an independent bookstore poses dangers for me.  I see so many books I already know I want to read, and then I discover new ones.  I did walk away with a signed copy of Allan Gurganus' new novel Local Souls.  I enjoy his work and I love to hear him speak too.  At the checkout, though, the gentleman working recommended another book, and I was sold.

I also had the honor or presenting a program for the "No Name Book Club" in Hickory Tuesday.  The members of the group each get to choose one book for the club to read, and Helen selected by poetry chapbook Let the Lady Speak.  I was especially pleased to get to talk poetry with readers who generally choose fiction--or at least prose.--because I have a pending poetry project with book clubbers in mind. I have always been amused to hear which poems of mine appeal to different readers.  Since I could at least assume most of them had read the chapbook, I hated just to read the poems to them, so I first shared a couple of other poems by poets I admire that I thought would also appeal to them.  I also talked about hos many of my poems were "born."  They asked me to read some particular poems they'd enjoyed. I also loved to hear what others are reading, so naturally, I left with a few additions to my "to read" list.

Finally, I wanted to comment on a recent article I read in the Charlotte Observer about some research on the "Theory of Mind" that indicates the positive cognitive effects of reading literary fiction.  The study confirms my gut feelings.  They found that "reading literary fiction helps improve real-life skills like empahy and understanding the beliefs and intentions of others" (Belluck).  Those who read literary fiction scored better on tests than readers of popular fiction and of nonfiction. With so much emphasis on teaching "informational texts" (see Common Core), many schools are making the mistake of replacing literature with these other nonfiction prose texts (analogous to the "education lottery" money that didn't add to education coffers but freed up what had gone to schools for something else, leaving school budgets no better at all.  Oops.  I've climbed up on a soap box again.)

I'll be signing on again in a day or so to share my review of Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt--and maybe a few other recent reads. Stay tuned.


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