Archive for the ‘Book Recommendations’ Category

Monday Miscellany

Monday, April 21st, 2014

The big literary news of the past week was the death of Gabriel García Márquez and the announcement of Pulitzer Prize winners. But there is other news as well, particularly about upcoming publications:

Spring brings bounty of new titles for book lovers

Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for the Seattle Times, lists both fiction and nonfiction titles to be published in May and June. Her list includes books by Stephen King, David Guterson, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Best Summer Books 2014

Publishers Weekly chooses some books worth looking out for this summer, both fiction and nonfiction.


Reading Agency survey finds 63% of men rarely read

The Bookseller has some distressing news: the results of a survey conducted by the Reading Agency:

Researchers found that being too busy, not enjoying reading and preferring to spend their spare time on the internet means men read fewer books, read more slowly and are less likely to finish them than women.

Here’s one finding I find particularly interesting: “Nearly three quarters of the men surveyed said they would opt for the film or television adaptation of a book, whereas the same percentage of women were as likely to go for the book itself.”

The research was conducted in Britain.

The Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

From Wikipedia (public domain photo)

American writer Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious circumstances, and many sources attribute his death to chronic alcoholism. But this post on The Medical Bag offers a different explanation, posited in 1996 by Dr. Michael Benitez, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center who practices a block from Poe’s grave.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Because I am in Nashville cheering on the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s pursuit of yet another national championship, this week’s entry is an abbreviated one.

A Brief Interview With Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue is the author of eight novels and four short story collections, in addition to a number of dramatic productions. Her 2010 novel Room was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Her latest book, Frog Music [Little, Brown, $27.00], publishes on April 2.

Read why Emma Donoghue includes “a bitch character in every book.”

Senior English Major Wins the 2014 Rose Prize for Literary Criticism

I was intrigued by the description of English major Katie McLaughlin’s winning paper:

When senior English major Katie McLaughlin decided to write her capstone paper on collaborative Internet fiction, there was no official name for what she was writing about. So she made one up. She dubbed websites where people write, edit and read stories together “narrative communities,” and these narrative communities are what inspired her capstone paper, “‘Everybody Writes’: Re-imagining Reader, Writer, and Text in the Online Community.”

Classic dystopian novels forecast a bleak future — soon

New reprints of classic dystopian novels show that a bleak view of our future has enduring appeal. Seattle Public Library librarian David Wright rounds up titles by George Turner, J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Russell Hoban and John Wyndham.

Here’s the book on Wright’s list that most piques my interest:

Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker” (Gollancz, $17.95) is easily one of the most ingenious novels ever written. Set during a distant Dark Age long after our current civilization has given itself to the fire, the entire narrative is rendered in a hyper-phonetic, punning version of devolved English. We riddle along with Walker as he grapples with obscure legends of our own bad times, including that particularly seductive myth: the myth of progress. Readers who get the hang of Riddleyspeak (it’s easier than it looks) are in for a profound, transformative journey into the human heart, where fires of creation and destruction are kindled.

Cover: Cloud AtlasThis sounds like “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After,” the central portion that functions as the turning point in David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas. Set in the future, this section features language like this:

Adam, my bro, an’ Pa’n’me was trekking’ back from Honokaa Market on miry roads with a busted cart axle in draggly clothesies. Evenin’ catched us up early, so we tented on the southly bank o’ Sloosha’s Crossin’, ‘cos Waipio River was furyin’ with days o’ hard rain an’ swollen by a spring tide. Sloosha’s was friendsome ground tho’ marshy, no un lived in the Waipio Valley ‘cept for a mil’yun birds, that’s why we din’t camo our tent or pull cart or nothin’. [David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (New York, Random House, 2004, rpt. 2012), p. 239]

Although this language looks strange, I soon found that, as Wright says of Riddleyspeak, it’s easier to decipher than it looks.


Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 31st, 2014

The Conclusion of Women’s History Month

woman readingAs Women’s History month ends, here are two commemorative lists:

14 Totally Badass Female Authors

Though many truly badass women authors are alive and working today, their stories aren’t yet finished. So as Women’s History Month draws to a close, we wanted to look back on some of the incredible literary women from history and remember how both their work and their lives broke new ground.

Read why Huffington Post thinks these female authors were totally badass:

  1. Louisa May Alcott
  2. Mary McCarthy
  3. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  4. Nellie Bly
  5. Edith Wharton
  6. Zora Neale Hurston
  7. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  8. George Eliot
  9. Mary Wollstonecraft
  10. Carson McCullers
  11. George Sand
  12. Hannah Arendt
  13. Harriet Ann Jacobs
  14. Katherine Anne Porter

The 10 Best Thrillers and Crime Writing By Women

Though James Patterson might be the one getting 17-book deals for millions, some of the best writers of crime, thrillers, and mysteries have been women. Here are some of the best examples of these genres from the past century that will keep you reading past your bedtime (and possibly unable to sleep forever).

Among the authors Jessica Grose recommends here are Agatha Christie, Ann Rule, Edna Buchanan, and Patricia Highsmith.


Australia’s literary cranky ladies


Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

“WHAT’S your book group reading?” I say to a friend encountered on the street. Not: “Are you in a book group?” I have no idea whether Clara is in a book group. We’ve never talked about it. All the same, I just know. Why? Because it’s a safe assumption to make these days.

By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.) Among them is Clara, whose book group even has a name: the Oracles. They’re reading “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner.

James Atlas learns why book groups aren’t just a fixture of New York City.

Top Literary Cities in the U.S.

What determines a city as ‘literary?’ It’s not enough to have a large library, unique bookstores, or be the birthplace of a famous writer. Nor is it enough to be one of the top literate cities in the United States  Most literary cities have a strong writing program at one of their numerous colleges and universities, as well as bookstores and institutions hosting event after event. If anything, a literary city is a blend of the historical, cultural, and modern parts of literature, encouraging and inspiring future generations to appreciate and take part in the literary world.

See what cities (other than New York City) Gabriella Tutino has chosen for this article in Highbrow Magazine.

On Literary Cravings and Aftertastes

In this unusual take on literary criticism, Allison K. Gibson describes her literary cravings during pregnancy:

While I was pregnant, I learned to follow my instincts — my hunger — to lead me to stories that would nourish me. And, as I learned from that first 3 a.m. craving for “The Night of the Curlews,” certain stories are meant to be savored so that the words continue to nourish long after the last sentence has been swallowed. The best stories leave an aftertaste.

10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing

Writers are terrible procrastinators, and I’m pretty sure that’s because writing, although it can be exhilarating, is also just plain hard. Here author Bill Cotter, who has his own love-hate relationship with his profession, offers some (comforting?) remarks from writers including Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Virginia Woolf.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, January 13th, 2014

I’ll be traveling for the next three weeks. Therefore, updates here will be sparse.

The 9 Best Books That Don’t Exist

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s time to make you really sad: here are 9 great books…that don’t actually exist. But while the world would certainly be a better place if they did exist (except #4 and probably #1), if you haven’t read the books they’re from, change that right away.

Commenters have some additions to this list, and I would add The Book of Counted Sorrows from the works of Dean Koontz.

16 Books To Read Before They Hit Theaters This Year

The list includes some big titles: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

30 Books You NEED To Read In 2014

If you’re still drawing up this year’s reading list, Huffington Post has some recommendations from authors such as Karen Russell, Richard Powers, Lorrie Moore, Emma Donoghue, and Alain de Botton.

10 New Ways to Read in 2014 That Will Change the Way You Think About Books

From PolicyMic:

There’s no denying that the world of books is changing. But literature lovers are keeping up. Six years after the birth of the e-book reader Amazon Kindle, we’re no longer groaning about the death of traditional books. Even the most die-hard bibliophiles will admit that not only has technology not killed the book, but it also has extended literature’s boundaries by creating new forms — and has reached new audiences along the way.

Branch out and discover literature in all its hip, inventive, and tech-savvy glory this year, with our 10 reading resolutions that will change the way you think about and interact with books. Whether you’re a print-book fanatic or a Twitter fiend, there’s bound (pun intended) to be something in here for you.

10 Literary Blogs Every 20-Something Should Read

Also from PolicyMic:

The new literary generation is here, and it’s bored — bored with the New Yorker, bored with the New York Times, bored with the New York Review of Books.

We need new literary sustenance. We want writing by people who understand the tremendous attentional effort it requires to read more than three sentences of anything. We want a literary La La Land that gives us gifs and James Joyce in the same breath. Screw it — we want gifs of James Joyce.

While I look for those, take a look at these: The best — funniest, crassest, headiest, least boring, most addictive — literary blogs for 20-something readers and writers.

However, I don’t see why these recommendations should be limited to 20-something readers. I often read several of them myself, and I’m way past 29.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, January 6th, 2014

The Bestselling Books of 2013

Publishers Weekly has gathered some interesting statistics about last year’s book sales. Among their findings: “fiction is the genre of choice for customers who read e-books” and movie adaptations created demand for several titles, including Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

See the books included on these lists:

  1. Nielsen BookScan Top 20
  2. Amazon Kindle Top 20
  3. Amazon Print Top 20

8 books I bailed on in 2013

Laura Miller, book critic for Salon, reads a lot of books and usually writes about the ones she recommends. Here she summarizes 8 books she didn’t finish last year, cautioning “what follows are my responses to books you might possibly have heard of, rather than the absolute worst things I read.”

See why she bailed on these books:

  1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  2. Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
  3. The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
  4. Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime by Adrian Raine
  5. At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcon
  6. Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas
  7. Truth in Advertising by John Kenney
  8. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova

How Do E-Books Change the Reading Experience?

Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Mohsin Hamid and Anna Holmes discuss how technology affects the way we read.

Newbery Winner to Promote Her Genre

Television, music, and video games all compete with books for children’s attention. For this reason the Library of Congress in 2008 created the national ambassador for young people’s literature, a new position dedicated to promoting literature for children. A new ambassador is named every two years.

The next ambassador for young people’s literature will be Newberry Medal winner Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux:

With a warm, lively personality and a boisterous laugh, Ms. DiCamillo would appear a natural fit for the post of ambassador, which asks for an ability to relate to children and an overall contribution to children’s literature. She is the fourth person appointed to the position, following Jon Scieszka (2008), Katherine Paterson (2010) and Walter Dean Myers (2012).

The Top 10 Library Stories of 2013

For libraries, 2013 was an eventful year. PW takes a look back at the top 10 library stories of the year, and a look ahead to what might be on the horizon in 2014.

Read what Publishers Weekly has to say about these news stories from last year:

  1. An E-Book Breakthrough?
  2. Google, GSU and Fair Use
  3. The Common Core’s Rough Debut
  4. What Happened to Copyright Reform?
  5. Pew Finds Americans Love Their Libraries, But Use Is Declining
  6. A Bookless Library?
  7. The NYPL [New York Public Library] Goes Back to the Drawing Board
  8. The Digital Public Library of America Launches
  9. Congress, White House Push for Public Access to Research
  10. The Death of Aaron Swartz

Monday Miscellany: More Best Books Lists

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The Best Books of 2013

Book-selling giant Amazon of course has lots of best books lists. Check out these categories:

  • Editors’ Top 20 Picks
  • Top 20 Customer Favorites
  • arts & photography
  • audiobooks
  • biographies & memoirs
  • business & investing
  • children’s books
  • comics & graphic novels
  • cookbooks & food writing
  • crafts, home, & garden
  • gift picks
  • history
  • humor & entertainment
  • literature & fiction
  • mystery, thriller, & suspense
  • nonfiction
  • romance
  • science
  • science fiction & fantasy
  • sports & outdoors
  • teen & young adult

Vogue’s Guide to 2013′s Best Films, Books, Music, Art, Theater, and TV

The year’s best books, chosen by Megan O’Grady.

The ThinkProgress Year In Culture: The Best — And Worst — Books Of 2013

Doesn’t it just make sense that a best books list should be accompanied by a worst books list? This article contains some thought-provoking statements, and I feel validated in my judgment of a book that I was unable to stick with for its duration.

Need A Read? Here Are Maureen Corrigan’s Favorite Books Of 2013

From NPR’s Maureen Corrigan, who begins this way:

First, a word about this list: It’s honestly just a fluke that my best books rundown for 2013 is so gender-biased. I didn’t deliberately set out this year to read so many terrific books by women.

Not a problem at all, methinks.

My Favorite Books of 2013

Lucas Wittmann of The Daily Beast says, “Of course, I read, enjoyed, and admired the same books that everyone else did—Donna Tartt, George Packer and so on—but my list also reflects a few less applauded or less well-known books.” His idiosyncratic categories include best American history, best company, best debut, best life, best global history, best laugh, best book that everyone loved, best adventure, best revival, please give them their due, best book by an author who published another book this year, and best journalism.

Best Fiction of the Year

Seán Sheehan lists his choices for Irish Left Review.


Author Justin Taylor offers an unconventional list that includes “Three Older Books I Got Around to Reading for the First Time this Year and Am Putting on This List Because I Loved Them, So There.”

Reading gratitudes for the year

Also unconventional is Karen Tay’s offering in her Reading is Bliss column for the New Zealand publication Stuff:

I thought what might be quite lovely to do (said in a very English lady-of-the-manor upper crusty accent), is to name a random list of reading gratitudes. These are the things that make me thankful to be a reader and writer, and that makes reading such a pleasure.

Our 2013 Best Books of the Year

From ShelfAwareness: “Our 2013 Best Books of the Year feature 10 fiction, 10 nonfiction and 10 children’s titles.”

IR’s Best Indie Books for 2013

From IndieReader, a “list of the best indie titles of 2013.”

No Literary Horse Race, Just Books We Like

Let us be the first to tell you: These are quirky lists. They’re supposed to be. These are our favorite books of the year, so please don’t confuse them with 10 Bests, because we can’t make lists like those. For one thing, all of us — Michiko Kakutani, Dwight Garner and I [Janet Maslin] — read so many books on assignment that we don’t have the leeway to be comprehensive. For another, we’ve listed books that we liked as much as we admired. That’s where the quirks come in.

Worst Books of 2013: Fiction!

Finally, to keep your reading and critical skills sharp, peruse this list by Steve Donoghue for Open Letters Monthly.

Monday Miscellany: Best Books Round-Up

Monday, December 16th, 2013

The lists of best books for 2013 are accumulating quickly. Here are some that I’ve found so far.

The 10 Best Books of 2013

Courtesy of The New York Times, the five best works of fiction and of nonfiction.

Best Books of 2013

Goodreads readers have spoken. See their top choices for the year in these categories: fiction, mystery and thriller, historical fiction, fantasy, paranormal fantasy, science fiction, romance, horror, memoir and autobiography, history and biography, nonfiction, food and cookbooks, humor, graphic novels and comics, poetry, young adult fiction, young adult fantasy, middle grade and children’s, and picture books.

100 Notable Books of 2013

The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

31 of the best titles of 2013

I like what Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor of The Seattle Times, has to say about these annual lists:

Best-books lists are, shall we say, in the eye of the beholder? Squishy? Subjective?

Case in point: Two titans of the publishing world, the trade journals Publishers’ Weekly and Library Journal, issued their best-books lists in November. Each named 10 “best books.” One book made both lists, a debut novel called “A Constellation of Vital Phenomona” by Anthony Marra. Pretty swell for first-time novelist Marra, but not much of a consensus!

Nevertheless, on our books page we spend all year dividing the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the gold from the dross, so here’s the final sort — Seattle Times reviewers’ nominations for the Best Books of 2013. Thirty-one in all, 15 fiction, 16 nonfiction.

Adam Woog’s 10 best mysteries of 2013

Writing for the aforementioned Seattle Times, Adam Woog chooses the year’s best mysteries:

2013 has been a stellar year for crime fiction. The increasing trend toward settings in foreign locations (besides that old standby, Great Britain) is especially noticeable.

The best memoirs of 2013

This just happened to be the page that I came across first of the U.K. Guardian‘s lists. You’ll find links to the rest of the series on the page.

Scotland’s writers choose their best books of 2013

Scottish writers including Kate Atkinson, Christopher Brookmyre, John Burnside and Janice Galloway, pick out “the crème de la crème of 2013’s books.”

Love to read? Here’s our list of top 20 books of 2013

From Australia’s Herald Sun: “we’ve selected our favourite ones in 20 categories as a guide for your Christmas shopping.”

Buffett, Slim, Greenspan, El-Erian, Lew Pick Best Books of 2013

A list of “responses to the annual Bloomberg News survey, which asked CEOs, investors, current and former policy makers, economists and academics to name their favorite books of 2013.”

The best literary spats of 2013

OK, so this isn’t actually a “best books” list. But it is just too good to pass up: “From Bret Easton Ellis’s denouncement of Alice Munro to the Team Nigella backlash, John Dugdale looks back on the writers’ rows of the year.”



Monday Miscellany

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Robert McCloskey Sketches for “Make Way for Ducklings”

Born in 1914 in Hamilton, Ohio, Robert McCloskey came to Boston to attend the now-defunct Vesper George Art School. He left to live in New York for a time and established a career as an author and illustrator in the late 1930s. Over the years, he became the force behind beloved tales like Homer Price, Blueberries for Sal, and Time of Wonder. His most famous work is Make Way for Ducklings, which tells the story of a pair of mallards in Boston who take their eight ducklings from the Charles River to Boston’s Public Garden. The Boston Public Library has digitized over 100 of McCloskey’s studies for this wonderful work for consideration by the general public. Visitors can zoom in and look around and some of these great works. Visitors can also create their own curated collections for use at a later date.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013.

Slideshow: The Emily Dickinson Archive

The New York Times offers a good sampling of the materials now available online through The Emily Dickinson Archive. There’s also a link to the archive itself.

What 20 years of best sellers say about what we readKid With Books

How has your reading changed in the past 20 years? From readers shopping in brick-and-mortar bookstores, to the dominance of game-changing online sellers, to a digital era of e-reading and instant delivery, the book industry has gone through monumental change. And USA TODAY has been there all along. Look through 20 years of best-selling books.

This feature by USA TODAY offers an informative look at how reading and books have changed over the last 20 years. Includes lists of the best-selling books for each year.

How Changing Technologies Influence Storytelling

The Internet has changed (and keeps changing) how we live today — how we find love, make money, communicate with and mislead one another. Writers in a variety of genres tell us what these new technologies mean for storytelling.

The New York Times rounds up comments on technology from the following authors:

  • Margaret Atwood
  • Charles Yu
  • Marisha Pessl
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Rainbow Rowell
  • Dana Spiotta
  • Frederick Forsyth
  • Douglas Coupland
  • Tracy K. Smith
  • Emily Giffin
  • Ander Monson
  • Elliott Holt
  • Victor LaValle
  • Lee Child
  • Meg Cabot
  • Tao Lin
  • A.M. Homes

The 10 Best Mystery Books

Thomas H. Cook, one of the best at what he does, has done it again with 2013′s Sandrine’s Case, which is just as intricate and surprising as you’d expect from the Edgar winner. A veteran thriller and mystery writer of over 20 books, Cook shared his favorite mystery novels.

I love mysteries, but I’ve only read two of the books on Cook’s list for Publishers Weekly. But the two that I have read, A Crime in the Neighborhood and A Simple Plan, are very good.

Best Books of 2013 | Publishers Weekly

Friday, November 1st, 2013

There’s no denying that the state of the world is reflected in our favorite books of 2013. Among our top 10 are narratives that range from the war on terror to a middle Eastern country in the iron grip of a dictator to hard times much closer to home. In others, history — factual, or not — informs the present. Truth is sought, in a searing true crime story and a controversial investigation, and in two very different but equally mesmerizing debuts, our world is explored in strange, unexpected ways. It’s a cliche to say that no matter what you like to read, we have a book for you. But this year it’s undoubtedly true. We hope you enjoy them — we sure did.

via Best Books of 2013 | Publishers Weekly.

It’s only the first of November, but Publishers Weekly, which has the advantage of advance copies of upcoming releases, has issued its Best Books of 2013 list.

Read their Top 10 list as well as lists for categories, including mystery/thriller, poetry, romance, science fiction/fantasy/horrow, comics, nonfiction, children’s fiction, religion, and lifestyle.

Monday Miscellany: Big Literary News Edition

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Meet Alice Munro, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Cover: Dear LifeThe big literary news of last week was the announcement of Canadian writer Alice Munro as recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Munro is generally considered to be the current master of the short-fiction form.

The announcement generated a lot of articles about Munro’s life of literary accomplishments. Here are some of the most useful that serve as a primer of Alice Munro’s life and works.

A Beginner’s Guide to Alice Munro

Back in July 2012, to celebrate the publication of Munro’s most recent book, Dear Life, Ben Dolnick, a self-proclaimed Alice Munro fanatic, offered this overview at The Millions:

Considering which of Alice Munro’s stories to read can feel something like considering what to eat from an enormous box of chocolates. There are an overwhelming number of choices, many of which have disconcertingly similar appearances — and, while you’re very likely to choose something delicious, there is the slight but real possibility of finding yourself stuck with, say, raspberry ganache.

A Nobel reading list: Essential Alice Munro books

From USA Today:

Canadian writer Alice Munro, “master of the contemporary short story,” has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for her body of work. Here is a list of books by the 82-year-old author, who recently said she was retiring from writing:

From the Archive: From fact to fiction

The Montreal Gazette reprinted this article from 2005:

The events of Alice Munro’s life – an Ontario girlhood, university, marriage and a move to the West Coast, motherhood, the breakup of the marriage and a move back east – are the stuff of fiction (hers) and the stuff of life, a life laid bare in Robert Thacker’s new biography, Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives.

Reading Literary Fiction Increases Empathy

woman reading

The other recent event of literary interest is the release of findings of a new study suggesting that reading literary fiction increases empathy, or the ability to understand why people act as they do.The research was conducted by a professor and a graduate student from the New School for Social Research in New York City. Here’s what the institution says in its press release:

Ph.D. candidate David Comer Kidd and his advisor, professor of psychology Emanuele Castano performed five experiments to measure the effect of reading literary fiction on participants’ Theory of Mind (ToM), the complex social skill of “mind-reading” to understand others’ mental states. Their paper, which appears in the Oct. 3 issue of Science is entitled “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.”

In their experiments the researchers studied three different types of written material:

To choose texts for their study, Kidd and Castano relied on expert evaluations to define three types of writing: literary fiction, popular fiction, and nonfiction. Literary fiction works were represented by excerpts from recent National Book Award finalists or winners of the 2012 PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction; popular fiction works were drawn from bestsellers or an anthology of recent popular fiction; and non-fiction works were selected from Smithsonian Magazine.

And the results of the several experiments were consistent:

Across the five experiments, Kidd and Castano found that participants who were assigned to read literary fiction performed significantly better on the ToM [theory of mind] tests than did participants assigned to the other experimental groups, who did not differ from one another.

The study shows that not just any fiction is effective in fostering ToM, rather the literary quality of the fiction is the determining factor. The literary texts used in the experiments had vastly different content and subject matter, but all produced similarly high ToM results.

The researchers’ discussion of the results suggests the following explanation:

Kidd and Castano suggest that the reason for literary fiction’s impact on ToM is a direct result of the ways in which it involves the reader. Unlike popular fiction, literary fiction requires intellectual engagement and creative thought from its readers. “Features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances. Through the use of […] stylistic devices, literary fiction defamiliarizes its readers,” Kidd and Castano write. “Just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.”

Lots of news outlets jumped on this story, eager to give it their own spin. Here are some of the more interesting offerings.

Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy

Scientific American chose this emphasis:

How important is reading fiction in socializing school children? Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.

For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

Pam Belluck, writing in The New York Times, chose this approach:

Say you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel.

That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

Want To Read Others’ Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction

For National Public Radio (NPR), Nell Greenfieldboyce concluded:

This study could be a first step toward a better understanding of how the arts influence how we think, says David Comer Kidd, a graduate student who coauthored the study with Castano.

“We’re having a lot of debates right now about the value of the arts, the value of the humanities,” Kidd says. “Municipalities are facing budget cuts and there are questions about why are we supporting these libraries. And one thing that’s noticeably absent from a lot of these debates is empirical evidence.”

Book News: Reading Fiction May Boost Empathy, and Other Stories from the Week

In a blog post for The New Yorker, Rachel Arons also speculated about the implications of the research:

Though the study leaves many questions unanswered—like how “literary” the fiction has to be to have an impact, or how long the empathy boost lasts—the researchers hope that studies like this one, which demonstrate the quantifiable benefits of reading literature, could have an impact on curriculum design in schools. (The Common Core standards have attracted criticism for emphasizing nonfiction over literature.)