Sorry, Reading Jane Austen Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

But the Arts Have Plenty to Tell Researchers About How Emotions Work

In 2013, Science published a study with the intriguing title, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” The authors (David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano) claimed to have proven that literary fiction—not “genre” fiction, not well-written nonfiction, but literary fiction—develops our “theory of mind,” which means our ability to recognize other peoples’ thoughts and feelings. This ability, in the words of the authors, “allows successful navigation of complex social relationships and helps to support the empathic responses that maintain them.”

Newspapers and magazines were quick to report these results. A …

More In: literature

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Speech Reminds Us That Songs Are for Listening, Not Reading

But the Folk Rocker, Like the Ancient Greeks, Thinks Music and Literature Can Co-Exist

“Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.” Homer’s opening to the Odyssey is one of the most well-known lines of what we call literature—but the Greeks called song. This …

Can the Literary Arts Thrive in an Open Book?

A Minneapolis Collaboration Between Three Book-Minded Nonprofits Created a Home for the Arts—and Lots of Other Things

When it comes to music or theater, community-building happens right in front of your eyes. Crowds surge forward to see a band, or settle together into rows of seats as …

Were Mr. Darcy and Boo Radley Anti-Social Misfits—or Autistic?

How Fiction Can Reframe a Misunderstood Mental Condition

Is autism cool?

It is in literature, as novels featuring characters on the autism spectrum have become so frequent that they’ve spawned a new genre: “autism lit,” or “aut lit.”

Many of …

Why ‘Frankenstein’ Is a Great Science Policy Guide for the Future

Mary Shelley's 200-Year-Old Fable Explores the Tension Between Scientific Creativity and Social Responsibility

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley’s epic tale about the perils of scientific creation, turns 200 this year. Its famous creation story involves laudanum, and sexual tension, and an …