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Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the…

Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel

by Lisa Zunshine

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I normally hate reading literary theory. It just tends to tangle me up in knots and make me feel like my degrees are just two bits of paper and a silly hat. But I loved this one: I loved the whole concept of applying ideas like a theory of mind to fiction, and I enjoyed the way it was written, with examples and some humour. It helps that the cognitive theories are ones I understand well from a) being the daughter of a psychiatrist and having long discussions about this kind of thing and b) being interested in mental illness/non-neurotypical people, but I think Zunshine also made it pretty accessible.

She also anticipates a lot of my bugbears (oversimplification! I don't do that when I'm reading! anecdata, anecdata, anecdata!) and at least convinces me she's thought it all through and can see other perspectives. I kinda want to pursue reading about this sort of thing, but then I'm worried that even the stuff she references gets back into that quagmire of entanglement that I so often find.

My main criticism of this relates to a) the formatting, which in my edition at least was all over the place, and b) sometimes astoundingly long sentences which threatened to confuse me.

But still, it's thirty degrees here (Celsius) and all I want to do is lie very still and not have to think with a massive glass of mostly ice cubes next to me, because I am not made for this heat, but I enjoyed reading this. ( )
2 vote shanaqui | Jul 14, 2013 |
I always wondered why we, readers, tolerate fiction - it's all made up isn't it? Why bother? Why are we entertained? Why not stick to non-fiction? This book, drawing on research from the field of cognitive science, provides some clues as to why our brains enjoy and thrive on fictional narratives.
It doesn't answer all the questions - its focus is on how the reading brain creates truth from the characters depicted, rather then the story or plot per se (that would be a whole other book). Highly academic but accessible and rewarding if you take your time. ( )
  blackjacket | Nov 9, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081425151X, Paperback)

Why We Read Fiction offers a lucid overview of the most exciting area of research in contemporary cognitive psychology known as "Theory of Mind" and discusses its implications for literary studies. It covers a broad range of fictional narratives, from Richardson’s Clarissa, Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment, and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Zunshine’s surprising new interpretations of well-known literary texts and popular cultural representations constantly prod her readers to rethink their own interest in fictional narrative. Written for a general audience, this study provides a jargon-free introduction to the rapidly growing interdisciplinary field known as cognitive approaches to literature and culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:25 -0400)

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