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Amgad Muhammad

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What's the point of novels?

All of us would agree that reading for facts and knowledge widens our perspective, but what does reading novels do?
Do we read novels for the sole purpose of entertaining ourselves or does it make us intelligent in some way?
How can one take lessons from a story that was made up and characters that do not exist?

Is reading novels just a waste of time? a sort of video game for those who like to read?


Topics: books

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    May 8 2013: In reading novels, when we think about the characters and their situations, we consider hypothetical paths to solving problems that often have a universality to them and observe different modes of interacting with others. These experiences, though the situation is fictional, extend our experience (of the what ifs and possible consequences) and add to our range of ideas for solving our own problems, for empathizing with others in a variety of situations, and for dealing with relationships and conflicts.

    Movies can do the same, except that in novels we have more control of our processing pace. It is a longer, often more thorough experience, and we can pause or reread.

    I cannot speak to the comparison to video games, as I do not play them, but it would seem novels and movies both have a greater ability to capture complex characters and situations.

    The only Egyptian novelist whose work I have read is Naguib Mahfouz. I thought the Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street) was a masterpiece.

    Another masterpiece, I think, set in Egypt is Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet, which tells the same story in four different novels from the perspectives of four main characters.
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      May 8 2013: Great comment. I can see why you host many threads.

      You summarize so much of my poorly formed thought -- that I have very little (if anything) to add here.

      I guess the best thing about novels in English, is having a department of English to study with at University. If you are a native speaker of English, and English is your first language, the novel in English is most of what you study in the field of English language and literature.

      If we got rid of the novel, we wouldn't have any English majors in college. Not only that, but there wouldn't be a publishing industry either. Some might argue the point, but I'll keep things the way they are for now. And as far as the novel is concerned, what would we replace them with?

      There is too much about reading fiction that I enjoy.
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        May 8 2013: Hi, Juan. I don't host the individual threads. Amgad is, for example, the host of this thread. I am a host in TED Conversations as a whole, which means I do my best to help people get something good out of their participation here.
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          May 8 2013: Thank you for that. I don't think it is possible for me to enjoy TED any more than I already do. The collective and productive exchange of ideas here has really added a lot to my day.

          Thanks again
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      May 8 2013: Thanks Fritzie for participating, you remind me of something I read in "Made to Stick", a book by Chip and Dan Heath, they said stories put knowledge into a frame work that is more lifelike. I think good authors can use novels to put ideas in a way that makes it easier for us to comprehend.

      If you're a fan of Naguib Mahfouz I recommend you read "Children of our Alley". It was banned in Egypt for years until 2006. A great read.
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        May 8 2013: Thank you for the recommendation. I just happened to finish reading a novel yesterday and will look into Children of Our Alley for next in my line-up. I see there is some controversy about whether Children of Gebelawi represents the more authentic translation.

        Do you have a thought on this?
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          May 9 2013: The literal translation is the Children of our Alley. 100% sure about that.
          Gebelawi is a character in the novel with a certain symbolic meaning. I can see why they would change it, but I think Alley better match the novel.

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