Reading as Therapy
What Contemporary Fiction Does for Middle-Class Americans
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Iowa Press
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Several research grants made it possible for me to finish this book. I was supported in the 2007–2008 and the 2008–2009 academic years by PSC-CUNY, and in the spring of 2007 and the fall of 2008 by the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Fund. I am especially grateful to the Whiting Foundation, whose generous grant allowed me to devote the 2007–...
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How does fiction help people? What forms of emotional support do books provide? Do they stave off loneliness? Do they offer useful examples of how to lead or how not to lead one’s life? Why is the tingle of self-recognition that accompanies identification with a fictional character so satisfying?
Chapter One - Searching for Paradise on The Oprah Winfrey Show
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Just a few sentences away from finishing Toni Morrison’s Paradise, an arduous journey almost completed, the reader encounters an image of similarly exhausted travelers and a warning that the real work has only just begun: “When the ocean heaves sending rhythms of water ashore, Piedade looks to see what has come. ...
Chapter Two - Therapy and Displacement in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
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Bewildered by crowds, factories, and cities of unprecedented scale, Americans in the late nineteenth century turned to novels about small towns, local customs, and preindustrial crafts. The genre they embraced, now known as regionalism, depicted the idiosyncrasies of tight-knit rural communities in New England, the South, and the newly settled Midwest and, while subtly acknowledging the threat of sweeping change, ...
Chapter Three - Infinite Jest and the Recovery of Feeling
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Narratives of addiction are irresistible. The strangely appealing opportunity to observe, imagine, or inhabit vicariously the scenes of pleasure, transgression, abjection, and redemption that these narratives typically unfold has come to function as a substitute gratification capable of replacing the substances whose addictive properties they document. Recognizing this potential, Bill Wilson and Robert Smith, ...
Chapter Four - The Pain of Reading A Million Little Pieces
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The revelation that James Frey’s best-selling memoir about his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, A Million Little Pieces, contains multiple lies and exaggerations has evidently undermined its value for many readers. Oprah Winfrey concluded her punishing interview with Frey subsequent to the public exposure of his dishonesty with this declaration: “And I believe that the truth matters”— a fitting remark insofar as an encounter with “the truth” ...
Chapter Five - The Politics of Interiority in The Pilot’s Wife
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Although occasionally called upon to perform certain emeritus functions, the omniscient narrator has mostly retired from the scene of contemporary U.S. fiction. In the place of this appealingly wise but problematic figure emerges an array of speakers no less ignorant, prejudiced, and confused than the reader. First-person narrators, of course, have a long history of unreliability, ...
Chapter Six - Reading The Kite Runner in America
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The effusive customer reviews of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner posted on Amazon often register surprise: Many Americans were initially reluctant to read what they perceived to be “foreign” fiction.1 Their short-lived resistance and their subsequent enthusiasm raise an important question. What does this novel, largely about Afghanistan, offer American readers? ...
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If psychological discourse functions as the basis for individualism, as the means of ascribing to each and every person a unique and private interior life, it has also come to serve, especially in recent years, as a powerful leveler, one that asserts a common humanity across various cultural, racial, economic, and political categories. But as a tool, the therapeutic has largely answered the needs of particular groups, ...
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Page Count: 258
Publication Year: 2011