Fiction As Social Discipline

The magnificent novel, The Imperfectionists, by debut author Tom Rachman, is a treasure trove of humanity. It is a book to be read over and over again. From loneliness to heartbreak, the author lays bare the universal emotions that unite us all. And yet, at its conclusion, I chanced upon another delight. In the back of the book, the author is interviewed by none other than Malcolm Gladwell, one of my favorite philosopher/authors.

Not only does this interview deliver great insights into the novel, but Malcolm, known for his nonfiction books, The Tipping Point and Blink among others, shares his insights on fiction:

“In a good book, we get an intimate and nuanced picture of someone–to the point where our own prejudices are completely displaced by the world created by the author. That’s an extraordinarily important kind of social discipline: It reminds us that an important part of what it means to be human is to replace our snap judgments about people with the empirical evidence they offer us.”

Va-va-voom! Upon reading this, I felt my heart swell with happiness. Malcolm had just articulated one of the many reasons that fiction appeals to so many of us. In this multi-tasking, technology-driven world, reading fiction takes on a new urgency. It’s not just leisure anymore, as Malcolm asserts, it’s social discipline. I’ll take that one step further: reading fiction is our duty!


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