Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gender Perspectives on Reading

From National Public Radio (NPR) comes this article about why women read more than men do.

“Surveys consistently find that women read more books than men, especially fiction. Explanations abound, from the biological differences between the male and female brains, to the way that boys and girls are introduced to reading at a young age.”

Americans of both genders are reading a lot less than they used to. The article reports on a recent poll released by the Associated Press (AP) that found that last year the average American read only four books and that one in four adults read no books at all. The poll further found that the average American woman read nine books last year, whereas the average American man read four. “Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography.”

The gender gap is greatest for fiction, with men accounting for only 20% of fiction sales, according to surveys conducted in the United States, Canada, and Britain. Book group participants are predominantly women, and, according to the article, most literary blogs are produced by women.

The article discusses several theories that attempt to explain the fiction gap. Cognitive psychologists say that women are more empathetic than men, a trait that makes fiction more appealing to women. Another possible explanation, offered by Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain, is that girls are able to sit still for a long time at a younger age than boys; girls therefore are more suited to the sedentary activity of reading. Yet another theory focuses on “mirror neurons,” brain cells that are activated both when we initiate actions and when we watch actions being performed by other people; the presence of these mirror neurons may explain why we feel pain when we see someone else in pain. Although research on mirror neurons is still quite new, preliminary findings suggest that women have more of these cells than men do and that mirror neurons are the biological basis for empathy, a capacity necessary for the appreciation of fiction.

Finally, according to the article, young people read much less than do older people, a fact that has publishers and booksellers wondering what will happen as the population ages.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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