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In Search of the Novel

What’s In It for Me?

A novel can transport readers to other places and times, real or imaginary, allowing them to meet people and experience life in many different ways.

Goals and Objectives

Upon completion of this workshop lesson, teachers will be able to:

  1. Help students expand their understanding of and empathy for people of other times and places.
  2. Design a lesson plan that provides students with opportunities to explore personal benefits from reading good fiction.

Participants’ Comments and Observations

Arthur Golden: For students, I think that one of the things that fiction can do that few other forms can do quite as well is to bridge differences between people. Film can give you a sense—sometimes very vividly—of what it’s like to grow up as a little boy in Sweden at a certain time in history and make you sympathetic. I’m not going to try to pretend that no other form can do anything like it, but fiction has a special ability because of the use of words to reveal someone’s inner life. And I think that can be of tremendous value as you go through the world—to read novels and to understand other perspectives. It keeps you from thinking that you’re always right. And it’s a little facile for me to suggest that that’s the reason why people should read. I think people should read because they like to read, if they like to read. If they don’t like to read, they shouldn’t read. But one hopes they will like to read, because it can be enormously engaging or gratifying and broadening. And I think what’s in it for teachers is really bringing students around to a love of literature. It’s for the teacher to explain to the student that there’s another part of the world out there he or she may not know about. And for the student it is to discover other understandings of the world around him. Unless a student knows something about his neighbor, he only knows part of his own history.

Orson Scott Card: Most readers are not in search of the novel; they’re in search of a really cool story. A story that they can care about and believe in. They don’t care about the novel. They care about this story; is this story gonna satisfy me? And the only people who really care about the novel are people who are trying to systematize and make scientific an art.

Tony Williams: What’s the use of books if they’re not to teach us how to live? Dickens does that very strongly, I think…Through the social concerns he had and through the, the social campaigning which he did. And he was a great social campaigner in all sorts of ways. But fundamentally and what’s most important and enduring about the novels is that they are about ordinary fallible human beings and he does write from the class standpoint that he knows. He writes from that lower-middle-class standpoint. And that means he is touching the lives of a much wider audience than if he was dealing perhaps, with aristocrats, for example.

Stephen Hunter: I think what’s in it for society is, that if you can stimulate people through their imaginations, you can make contact with them and get them to make contact with others. And our society, particularly , as mass culture splits people into groups as marketing units. Teenagers, baby boomers, oldsters, you know, and I don’t think that’s healthy. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything we can do about it, but let’s just say it’s probably not healthy. What’s healthy is to understand that we’re sort of all in the same boat. And the only way you can understand that is experiencing other people’s lives and since we’re locked in bodies of flesh and bone, the only way we can experience other peoples’ lives is through the organ of our imagination, and the novel seems to be the universal form for allowing that transference of soul.

Ernest Gaines: In a worthwhile book there is an experience that you have not had in the past. Each book is different in a way. You do learn something. And I found that out from the letters that I’ve received from these young students, middle grade students, that it was something that they had discovered, they had not known before. So that’s why you read the book, you find out something about life that you had not known before.