Coffee with Questions May 1, 2016

Subject: Importance of Novels

Presenter: Ivy Sitkoski

Sunday May 1,  2016 at 9:15am

Location: TREE OF LIFE: Unitarian Universalist

Congregation, 5603 W Bull Valley Rd, McHenry, IL 60050

Phone: (815)322-2464

In an article in a recent issue of The Atlantic, a conversation between President Obama and a novelist Marilynne Robinson is reported.  Obama is quoted as saying:

“Are you somebody who worries about people not reading novels anymore?  And do you think that has an impact on the culture?  When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels.  It has to do with empathy.  It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.  And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some(one) else even though they’re very different from you.”

The author of the article later says, “By encouraging us to adopt the perspective of an other – in particular, a profoundly alien other – fiction leads us to draw new and wider nets around our otherwise more isolated selves.  Reading novels breaks down the boundary between “me” and “not me.”

  1. If you assume that President Obama is right, and that people are reading fewer novels than they once did, due to TV, the Internet, video games, etc., then do you also suspect that the     result is less empathy?
  2.   Do we have any evidence of this?  Is a novel-reading citizenry really a more empathetic one?
  3. Do you have personal experience with novels leading you to greater empathy toward particular individuals or groups of people?
  4. Do you know anyone else who has had such experiences?


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