||[Aug. 24th, 2016|05:25 pm]
It seems to me that literary writers and fans are just desperate to pick on genre writers and readers. It's kind of sad, really. Why don't they just write their literary books and give out their literary awards and let the rest of us read and write in peace?|
So, along with the warnings of the collapse of western civilization and complaints about the weak-willed pandering to people who aren't straight white men, we have the claim that those who read literary fiction have a better understanding of people's emotions than those who read genre fiction. Which is so ridiculous that I don't know where to start.
There seems to be a little confusion about what exactly the tests involved. Here's a paragraph from the article that I found on twitter.
First, they showed 1,000 people a list of names that included authors identified as literary, authors identified as genre, and random names of non-authors. In a subsequent test (I’ll come back to this in a moment) the ones who identified more literary writers scored better in the “reading the mind in the eyes test”, which correlates social intelligence with the ability to “read” closeups of people’s eyes.
That's from this article - https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/aug/24/genre-readers-have-less-empathy-feeling-val-mcdermid?CMP=share_btn_tw - which misstates the information a little. I think this writer is referring to a different test by the same people, which involved 2,000 participants.
The first test, with about 1,000 people, took place a few years ago, and people actually read a few pages of books before taking the eye test. However, that test received a lot of criticism because of the books they chose. Here is a paragraph from a different article:
One of that study’s critics was Mark Liberman. On his influential Language Log blog he expressed surprise that the study had even been accepted for publication – after all, he argued, the researchers had hand-picked just a few seemingly arbitrary examples of literary and genre fiction. It was, he said, a “breath-taking overgeneralisation” to extrapolate from the effects of these passages to say anything about lit fiction or genre fiction as a whole. https://digest.bps.org.uk/2016/08/22/more-evidence-that-literary-but-not-pop-fiction-boosts-readers-emotional-skills/
So in an attempt to shore up their theory, they devised a new test, involving 2,000 people. This is how they found them, according to the second article:
Some of the participants were recruited via a link in a New York Times article about the association between reading fiction and interpersonal sensitivity, others were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey website.
That is a really narrow sample pool. And someone is going to have to explain to me how the Amazon's Mechanical Turk website is relevant to this. According to the FAQs, this is that website's function:
Amazon Mechanical Turk is a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. The Mechanical Turk service gives businesses access to a diverse, on-demand, scalable workforce and gives Workers a selection of thousands of tasks to complete whenever it's convenient.
Amazon Mechanical Turk is based on the idea that there are still many things that human beings can do much more effectively than computers, such as identifying objects in a photo or video, performing data de-duplication, transcribing audio recordings, or researching data details. Traditionally, tasks like this have been accomplished by hiring a large temporary workforce (which is time consuming, expensive, and difficult to scale) or have gone undone.
Seriously, if you know how this site is relevant to taking a survey, let me know.
This time the participants didn't even have to read anything. This is another paragraph from the second article:
As well as completing the emotion recognition test, the participants were also shown a list of 130 names and asked to say which, if any, were the names of established authors. Sixty-five of the listed names were authors, some of them of pop fiction (such as Dick Francis, Tom Clancy and Stephen King), others of literary fiction (such as Salman Rushdie, George Orwell and Kazuo Ishiguro). Greater recognition of literary authors was interpreted as an indication that a participant had read more literary fiction. Bolding mine.
That is such a baseless assumption that I want to bang some heads against the wall. High school English gave me a deep-seated hatred of "literature," but I know hundreds of authors I've never read because I worked in book stores for about seven years. I never read Moby Dick but I know who Herman Melville is. James Joyce. J.D. Salinger. (He counts as literature, right?) Thomas Hardy. Never read any of them but I know who they are from social osmosis. And I could remember a whole lot more if I was provided with a list of names. I am confident that these so-called researchers were aiming for a particular result and crafted their test to achieve it.
Michael Ignatieff was the disastrous leader of the federal Liberal party for a while. He bragged about reading War and Peace, because he was so clueless that he thought we would care. He was cold and arrogant and led the party to their worst defeat in history. Just sayin'
Also, call me weird, but I think the best way to be able to understand human behaviour is by interacting with human beings.
I have no statistics to back me up. I just remember not being able to identify with any of the characters I was forced to endure in high school. (And my sadistic book club.) The characters tended to be unlikeable, and they made stupid decisions. I didn't identify with anything in these books. All I learned from them was how to write bullshit answers in my exams.
I will now go back to reading Tanya Huff and writing my fantasy novel.