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Posts Tagged ‘dickens’

A day that Canadian short story writer Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize for Literature might be a good day to talk about the power of fiction.

The NY Times took up the subject only last week. I think that reporter Pam Belluck must have been a little psychic. She wrote: “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 [October 3] 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.”

Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd, researchers in the New School for Social Research’s psychology department. say “the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity. …

“ ‘It’s a really important result,’ said Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist who has written extensively about human intelligence, and who was not involved in the research. ‘That they would have subjects read for three to five minutes and that they would get these results is astonishing.’ ” More.

My own use of literary fiction is mainly for pleasure, not job interviews. But when things are bleak, Dickens can be the best medicine.

Photo of Charles Dickens from Biography.com

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You have to have light to have shadows. You have to have shadows to see the possibilities of light.

I took one of these shadow photos in early morning and one in late afternoon. When I went for a walk around noon, I carried my camera in case there might be other shadows that interested me. In the end I concluded that shadows on houses interest me more than shadows on sidewalks. Something to do with knowing that lives are lived inside the houses?

Probably my favorite Dickens novel is Bleak House. I have read it several times. A recurring motif is light and shadow. I am reminded in particular of the young couple walking through light and shadow, shadow and light. They are to experience much that is good, much that is dark. Some people accuse Dickens of writing plots that are too convoluted and bizarre, but what could be more true to life than that?

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Who wouldn’t love this story? Remember the mime Marcel Marceau? Now try to picture him directing traffic in a crazy intersection.

According to an article in the Canadian Press, by Christopher Toothaker (really his name), “Caracas, Venezuela, is placing over a hundred mimes on its busy streets to admonish reckless drivers and pedestrians. The mimes, dressed in clown-like outfits and wearing white gloves, may frown and gesticulate the command of ‘stop’ to motorcyclists roaring towards crosswalks or wag their fingers at jaywalking pedestrians. Although some reprimanded motorists have predictably hurled insults, mimes have reported that most people have reacted agreeably. Caracas is following the example set by Bogota, Columbia, which has successfully used mimes in a broader effort to increase commuter civility.”

Let’s bring back the Works Progress Administration and employ people as mimes. I can think of lots of intersections that need them, mostly in Boston. (But learning to be a mime is probably not as easy as it seems.)

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With the increase in vehicle crimes
Caracas has turned to some mimes.
They’ve slowed down the speeding,
Which no one was needing,
And inspired these few awkward rhymes.

Your turn. (If you use the French pronunciation, “meem,” that opens a whole other slate of rhyming options.)

P.S. Isn’t there a literary character — probably in Dickens — who keeps “dropping into poetry”?

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