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By Heart: The Author of 'The Automobile Club of Egypt,' Alaa Al Aswany, on How Literature Inspires Empathy. By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.

By Heart: The Author of 'The Automobile Club of Egypt,' Alaa Al Aswany, on How Literature Inspires Empathy

See entries from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and more. Alaa Al Aswany, the author of The Automobile Club of Egypt, is no stranger to activism. One of Egypt’s most recognizable literary celebrities, he was a high-profile fixture of the 2011 Tahrir Square demonstrations. A New Yorker profile established Aswany’s political clout with a dramatic opening anecdote: His onscreen confrontation with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik led, in the morning, to Shafik’s resignation.

But despite his role as a pro-democracy figurehead and cultural arbiter, Aswany seems to feel his main work takes place at the writing desk. The Automobile Club of Egypt is set in 1940s Cairo, during the last days of British colonial rule. The New Yorker has called Aswany “the most popular writer in Egypt and the most prominent Egyptian writer in the world.” Lezen met ALS: Proust? Daar kun je niet vroeg genoeg aan beginnen. What Books Do for the Human Soul: The Four Psychological Functions of Great Literature.

It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver — because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly.

What Books Do for the Human Soul: The Four Psychological Functions of Great Literature

Literature is the greatest reality simulator — a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness. Literature performs the basic magic of what things look like though someone else’s point of view; it allows us to consider the consequences of our actions on others in a way we otherwise wouldn’t; and it shows us examples of kindly, generous, sympathetic people. Literature deeply stands opposed to the dominant value system — the one that rewards money and power. Writers are on the other side — they make us sympathetic to ideas and feelings that are of deep importance but can’t afford airtime in a commercialized, status-conscious, and cynical world. Why can’t we read anymore?

Spending time with friends, or family, I often feel a soul-deep throb coming from that perfectly engineered wafer of stainless steel and glass and rare earth metals in my pocket.

Why can’t we read anymore?

Touch me. Look at me. You might find something marvellous. This sickness is not limited to when I am trying to read, or once-in-a-lifetime events with my daughter. At work, my concentration is constantly broken: finishing writing an article (this one, actually), answering that client’s request, reviewing and commenting on the new designs, cleaning up the copy on the About page. Literatuur maakt mensen beter in 'gedachten lezen' Foto: Thinkstock Na het lezen van literaire meesterwerken van schrijvers zoals Don Delillo en Anton Tsjechov slagen mensen er beter in om gezichtsuitdrukkingen te interpreteren.

Literatuur maakt mensen beter in 'gedachten lezen'

Het lezen van literatuur bevordert empathie en sociale vaardigheden. Of het nu Oliver Twist is of Harry Potter, Hester Prynne uit The scarlet letter of Katnisse Everdeen uit The hunger games, literaire karakters bieden ons een kans op een indirecte manier het leven in al zijn facetten te beleven: humor, mysterie en avontuur.

Het lezen van literatuur bevordert empathie en sociale vaardigheden

Via Atticus Finch uit To kill a mockingbird vechten we voor een morele zaak. Via Lizzy Bennet uit Pride and prejudice trotseren we klassentegenstellingen en vinden we romantisch geluk. Via Ralph Ellisons Invisible man betreuren we het dat de maatschappij onze individualiteit niet erkent. Does reading fiction make you a more empathic, better person? Illustration by Charlie Powell Does reading fiction make you a better, less self-absorbed person?

Does reading fiction make you a more empathic, better person?

You read because you are interested in the broad sweep of human experience, and because you want to gain access into the narrow sanctum of specific otherness—to feel Anna Karenina’s recklessness and desperation, or know the shape and weight of Ahab’s obsession, and thereby something of humanity itself. The First Sentence Is a Handshake. By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.

The First Sentence Is a Handshake

See entries from Claire Messud, Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and more. What happens in the first moments of a book? 100 Must Read Books: The Man's Essential Library. Internet’s Most Influential Writers. The debate as to whether the Internet is good or bad for literature doesn’t seem any closer to resolution now than when it began, years ago, but the fact remains that some people in the literary world are excellent at using Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and even Instagram or Pinterest to communicate with readers and get people interested in what they’re writing.

Internet’s Most Influential Writers

These aren’t the writers who have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers but only tweet when they have a book come out, or the ones who write a guest blog post every year to get their names back into the conversation. Some are young authors, others are firmly established. Some of them are publishing industry veterans or new media superstars who want to use their clout (or Klout) to talk up writers they love, while others command small armies via their Tumblrs. Literary journals/blogs. Literature. Literature.

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