Today’s letter is J, and J is for journeys with J.K. Rowling. I have always loved books and reading, however along with this I have a less well known love for audiobooks! When I was little I had LOADS of stories on tape (do you remember having to turn a tape, or wind it on?!), I used to listen to them as I went to sleep, while I played in my room and best of all in the car. For years and years as we traveled up and down the country some of my favourite characters would come too; Moonface and Pixie in The Magic Faraway Tree, Sophie who wanted to be a lady farmer, Triffic the pig, and of course Harry, Ron and Hermione.
The Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling but read by Stephen Fry, were some of the most wonderful books to listen to. Stephen Fry reads perfectly, he has such animation and enthusiasm, but isn’t overpowering and still allows your imagination to do the work. I listened to Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone until I could almost read along with him and the tapes were worn out. The later books we had on CD and they brought hours of pleasure to car journeys – there was less of the ‘are we nearly there yet?’ and more of ‘can we drive round for a little longer?!’ We used to joke that when my mum and I fell asleep in the car (inevitable!) it would just be my dad and Harry driving us the rest of the way – I’m not sure what this did for his street cred, we should probably keep it on the down-low! The best books were always saved for long journeys, but if it was really, really good I could be found sat in the car in the driveway until it reached a point were I could leave.
Recently I seem to have re-found audiobooks, not that I ever really left them, but in a different form. Audible.com has to be the best invention. You can download almost any book you fancy, have it on your ipod, and while everyone else in the world thinks you are just chillin’ with your music on, secretly the geek inside me is on some adventure somewhere far far away!
I am currently in my forth and final year of an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, and last Friday I handed in my 11,000 word dissertation. It is my very own little contribution to the philosophical conversation and, despite all the late nights in the library, something I really enjoyed writing.
The broad topic was philosophy and literature; more specifically I was looking at how we, as readers, respond emotionally to fiction. It is a rather uncontroversial fact that we respond emotionally to fiction. However I was looking at how this goes further and when a reader is matched with a novel that they find emotionally affecting, and it is read is an attentive way, there is potential for the development of their emotional intelligence.
But what is this emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a term that was coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995. He uses it to express the awareness of an individual in regards to their own emotions and the ability to communicate, express and deal with emotion effectively. It also refers to being able to get along with others successfully by recognising and understanding their emotions, something that will lead to better relationships, success at work, good personal mental health and good physical health. Goleman claims that emotions matter for rationality as they undoubtedly play a part in guiding our actions therefore emotional intelligence, not just intellectual intelligence (IQ), is important for a successful, rounded and good life.
There have previously been claims that fiction can be beneficial for our emotional and moral development (reasons for which I will not go into just in this short blog post!), however these were only made in accordance with classic, morally serious novels…think Jane Austen, Henry James etc. I took this one step further, claiming that it is not the mirroring of the exact realities of our lives that allows us to relate to those of the characters but the presence of some universal human traits such as free will, morality and emotion itself. These are the things that we relate to and start to recognise as similar even in the most fantastical situation. Fiction allows us a sort of rehearsal for real life; of course it will never be quite the same as feeling emotion in actuality but it can prepare us for dealing with difficult or new emotion, or for helping us to understand why others may react so differently, and hopefully teaching us to be more tolerant.
So this, in a couple of hundred words, is the bare bones of my dissertation. I supplemented my work with examples from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – a fantasy trilogy which, I felt, had some sort of emotional effect on me when I first read them at about the age of 13. One of the most interesting things I found when telling people about the work I was doing was that everyone immediately wanted to tell me about a book that stood out for them, what they had learnt from it, and the effect this had had on them. This was something that I couldn’t really talk about in my philosophy work where the focus is on theory and argument rather than this sort of evidence. Although it did play a part in they way I went on to stress the importance of the individual, their choice of novel and a personal interpretation of it.
So, I thought I would put the question out to the big wide world right here…what is the novel that springs to your mind when you hear this? Do you have one? It might be a novel that sticks in your mind for days on end… and story that has influenced how you live your life, or one that helped you deal with a difficult situation. Maybe your story isn’t a novel, but a film or poem…leave me a comment, let me know what you think :)
For more information on EQ: Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (Bloomsbury Publishing: London, 1995)
For theories on emotion in literature: Jenefer Robinson, Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and its Role in Literature, Music, and Art (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 2005)
Some parts of this blog post have been taken from my own dissertation.
The afternoon after I finished my exams I went to the book shop and did some perfect guilt free browsing. I then came home and literally devoured this book in two sittings. It’s been a very long time since a story has kept me up until the early hours of the morning, but that Saturday night I was to be found in my bed sobbing my little heart out at 2:30am. Tragic but true!
This is the story of Hazel and Augustus, they are both cancer kids and first bump into each other at Support Group. Emotionally they seem old beyond their years, they have both been through so much. But falling in love with each other gives them back some of their innocent childishness…’as he read, I feel in love like you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once’…it’s a chance to laugh and play and take risks (with just a few hospital visits thrown in between).
It is a story that is real and raw, and the dark humor will make you laugh at times when you think you probably shouldn’t be. But it’s life and we do laugh, and then later we cry. Markus Zusak was right when he said it is ‘A novel of life and death and the people caught in between’ – we are all the people caught in between there somewhere and I think anyone will find something within the pages of this book that will stay with them.
A love story for a valentines weekend. I think you should all read this book, whoever you are, wherever you are…although if you are an audiobook nerd (guilty), I would advise not listening in the car (yes Mum, I’m talking to you!)!
Happy reading xxx
ps. Picture comes from pinterest.