Literary Links: Fiction Teaches Empathy, Le Guin’s Early Rejection, Hacking Bestsellers


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. And since our audience (and we) love books in particular, we thought we would share a weekly roundup of some our favorite bookish writing from around the web. This week: fiction and empathy, hacking into bestsellers, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s early efforts.

Fiction teaches empathy, many studies have shown. But how can we use that quality to make better citizens, both among children and adults? At Signature Reads, there’s a serious exploration of the pedagogy and mechanics of using fiction in this regard:

Fiction can’t be our end-all tool for building empathy — there can be a real harm to filtering every single real-world event through a dramatic lens, spinning stories that suit our preferred narrative while ignoring input from those who lived it firsthand. Even so, particularly since the 20th century, fiction has provided a voice for people who would have otherwise been all too easy to ignore. When masterful storytelling aligns perfectly with a humanitarian payload, the effects will be felt around the world, transcending genre or political agenda.

Ursula K. LeGuin writes about her early efforts as an author at the Paris Review: “My first attempt at a novel, begun in a tiny notebook in Paris in 1951 (for I had at last got to Europe), was intrepid, immodest, and unwise.”

Can an algorithm create bestsellers and do we want it to? WIRED asks, explaining how technology has made it possible to predict readers’ behavior: “Once, publishers had to rely on unit sales to figure out what readers wanted. Digital reading changed that. Publishers can know that you raced through a novel to the end, or that you abandoned it after 20 pages. They can know where and when you’re reading. On some reading sites and apps, users sign in with their Facebook accounts, opening up more personal data.”

The New York Times covers the death of the campus bookstore thanks to, you guessed it: Amazon.

Ottessa Moshfegh, who just made it onto the Man Booker shortlist for her novel Eileen, talks to the Guardian about her “psychological thriller” novel and the irreverent mode in which she began writing it:

Moshfegh “went out and bought a book called The 90-Day Novel, by Alan Watt. It’s ridiculous, claiming that anybody can write a great book, and quickly too. And I thought if I were to do this, what would happen, would my head explode? So I followed it for 60 days – it was so boring. But it ended up as an Oulipian thing, struggling with a limitation, and it was actually interesting to conform to the rules. So … it started out as a fuck-you joke, also I’m broke, also I want to be famous. It was that kind of a gesture.” Moshfegh pauses and frets – though she laughs again – that “the Booker people will be disgusted” with her revealing the origins of Eileen in such terms.