Friday, June 15, 2012

FICTIVE INTELLIGENCE, Understanding the World by Reading Fiction, and LIBRARIANS

A couple of years ago I was asked to write a few lines about the importance of reading. I wrote this:

Reading a book is a direct injection of inspiration.

Reading shapes brilliant minds. It gets your brain throbbing and your heart racing.

It can bring you a thousand years of experience in a few pages.

Reading means bigger laughs, deeper feelings and a peek at the secrets of life.

We understand the world through stories. What we read makes people make sense.

I found myself thinking of that again last weekend at an amazing conference for librarians from all over the country. I was surrounded by hundreds of the best minds in the country, the most passionate champions of literature. They get together at conferences like this one to share ideas about how to continue to inspire. How to blast through all of the obstacles that stand between any average kid and his or her first experiences with a book. How to guide them into a lifetime of reading.

And it matters. I said it up at the top there: we understand the world through stories. I really believe that. A brain that's used to being immersed in fiction can grasp more complex concepts and construct narratives to make more sense of problems in the world.

It might be a relationship thing, it might be a global economic crisis. Whatever it is, there isn't just one simple cause. There never is. There is a complex intermingling of events that comes together to create the STORY of what's happening.

In other words, the world cannot be explained and all its problems solved by tweet-length explanations. We need longer, deeper, richer understanding. We need brains that have been trained by reading novels.

I call it FICTIVE INTELLIGENCE. It's my name for the kind of understanding that can only come from reading fiction. It involves sustained concentration, greater empathy and an ability to see beyond the quick soundbyte to the many various forces that have contributed to the situation: the "accumulation of many small advantages" - or in some cases, disadvantages. The bigger picture, over a longer period. All the subtle shifts and their gathering consequences.

Every time I see a politician trying to sell us a quick fix or a news report that blames some mess on a single person or event, I know I'm looking at someone who didn't read much fiction when they were younger.

But at this conference, surrounded by the greatest accumulation of Fictive Intelligence I've ever seen in a single space, I realised that these people were not only able to see the world differently, they were the guardians of Fictive Intelligence for everybody else. Librarians are uniquely equipped to unlock a lifetime of understanding in every child.

For me, there is a succession of direct links that goes something like this: read fiction... develop the kind of deeper understanding of people and the world that I'm talking about (Fictive Intelligence)... see problems (your own and the world's) with a richer sense of how they came about... solve problems.

If the politicians who are making decisions to cut library funding, remove books from schools and sack librarians can't see that trail of links, then it's clear to me that what they lack is any trace of Fictive Intelligence.

They didn't read enough fiction and we will suffer for it. Because now they can't see the narrative they're creating unfolding into the future.

The future will involve as many crises as the past. What changes is our collective ability to handle those crises. A population that has been deprived of librarians is trusting to chance that enough people will somehow discover fiction they love and become lovers of reading and stories.

Chance is not enough. That population without librarians will quickly lose all Fictive Intelligence.

We won't have the tools we need to meet challenges we know are coming, let alone the ones we can't even imagine yet. And eventually we won't even see the pretty simple story of how it all went wrong.

Yes, I'm saying that to 'fix' problems we need more librarians: in every school, in every town... dammit, put a librarian on every street corner and you've got the best crime-fighting strategy you'll ever need.

Do it now. Give us librarians so we can create a population that loves reading, that understands stories, that sees the world for the rich and varied place it is, that doesn't shy away from complexity or subtlety and that can therefore face any crisis - even a crisis so grave as the one facing libraries right now, that not enough people seem to have noticed or chosen to care about.

It matters.


Librarian said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Joe. Well said. Now to convince the headteachers, governors, bursars...and powers in the land of education. Some still think that libraries are simply rooms in which books are kept and librarians mere caretakers. Yes, really!

Pauline Chandler said...

Completely agree with everything you say in this brilliant piece. I'm blogging about something similar next week. Pauline Chandler

Anonymous said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Librarians were my favourite people when I was a kid. Even though some were SCARY...

Sue Bastone said...

Wow! Thanks Joe Craig. I was one of those librarians at the conference - thank you for believing in and supporting us. Join our Mass Lobby of Parliament on 29th October!