And now I have a question for you.
First: for those of you in the Los Angeles area, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be the guest at an LARB Luminary Dinner on Saturday, September 23. I’ll be in conversation with the wonderful Charles Yu. Details here. Please join us, if you feel like it.
Here’s a revised link: https://lareviewofbooks.org/events/larb-luminary-dinner-with-george-saunders/
We writer spend a lot of time claiming different virtues for fiction. (I do that a lot here, I know). We talk about stories increasing compassion; improving sympathy; connecting people; training us to be more aware of our projections; breaking down boundaries, and so on.
And we spend a lot of time here at Story Club asking how stories do what they do to us.
But what do they do to us, apart from the sometimes hyperbolic or too general or dreamy things we claim that they do? Might we be able to look at this question in a scientific, or at least experiential way, with no presumptions and no answers off the table?
I thought it might be fun to use this huge Story Club brain-trust to look into this topic objectively; that is, to really allow ourselves to look at what fiction does to and for us (actually does) when we read it.
In particular, I thought we might, in the Comments, explore the following questions:
Has a short story, a novel, a poem, or a play ever objectively altered your trajectory in life? (Ever caused you to DO something? Move, quit a job, start a degree, change course, etc.)?
Has a short story, a novel, a poem, or a play ever fundamentally changed your way of thinking? Your approach to living? That is, has reading a short story, a novel, a poem, or a play ever been critical in helping you hone your view of life/philosophy/ethical basis?
If so, what story? When did you read it? How did it change you? Who were you before and who after?
I’m really interested in hearing your responses.
These Comment threads can be wonderful, living documents, that hold up a mirror to our culture, and especially our literary/artistic culture. We have a really cool group here - a large and self-selected group of readers, readers who have proven themselves (yourselves) over the last year-and-a-half to be uncommonly articulate and generous.
I have a feeling that turning you loose on the above questions might produce some lovely essays, or at least, the beginnings of some.
In a time when literary culture is, according to some people, changing (being diminished and marginalized/becoming less essential and intense), it seems to me that it might make sense to take stock; to have a sort of group weigh-in on our respective experiences of being acted upon by literature; to really look at it, in other words, and the role it plays and has played in our lives.
Thanks, as always, for being here.
P.S. If you have a question you’d like me to take a swing at here during Office Hours, please send it to me at Storyclubwithgeorge@gmail.com.