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Another
03-14-2009, 02:28 AM
Suppose you had a choice of jail or reading some books. Which would you take? I know my answer: depends on the books. How about you?
Here's a NY Times article about "Changing Lives Through Literature," a program allowing felons and other offenders to choose between going to jail or joining a book club:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/books/review/Price-t.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=read%20a%20book%20get%20out%20of%20jail&st=cse (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/books/review/Price-t.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=read%20a%20book%20get%20out%20of%20jail&st=cse)

Robert Waxler, professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, founded the reading program in 1991 and it now runs in eight other states. Literature professors lead the groups made up of convicted criminals, probation officers, graduate students and judges. One evaluation found the study groups had about half the recidivism rate of a control group, though it's not clear if people were assigned at random to the treatment and control groups to make for equivalent groups.

Can literature, particularly fiction, memoir and maybe poetry, change people? The NYT article makes the point Oprah's fiction and memoir selections often are picked to promote discussion of self awareness, inner awakenings and new life directions. Perhaps hers are not the most profound books, but that's not the point. Profound or not, donít some books hit us at some times in our lives and shape our vision, passion and philosophy? W.H. Auden once wrote, "Poetry makes nothing happen." But I wonder if he wasn't really saying it thereby made something very important happen, but all inside.

Who feels changed reading? Who hopes others might be changed reading what we write? What to make of such feelings and hopes?

Another

Pat~
03-14-2009, 02:36 AM
I'd agree that books can change people, and the better the book, the better the change. But I'd be interested in seeing a link to that study that seemed to say they could rehabilitate criminals (no matter what the content). It's not the simple process of reading that changes people; choices and actions come from the heart. Books with content that changes the heart can rehabilitate people.

blacbird
03-14-2009, 02:49 AM
If it's a big enough book, and you hit 'em hard enough upside the head, yeah.

caw

tehuti88
03-14-2009, 07:56 AM
Suppose you had a choice of jail or reading some books. Which would you take? I know my answer: depends on the books. How about you?

Well, I'd choose reading over prison any day. Even if they made me read Hemingway or Henry James or Stephanie Meyer. *ducks missiles*


Profound or not, don’t some books hit us at some times in our lives and shape our vision, passion and philosophy? W.H. Auden once wrote, "Poetry makes nothing happen." But I wonder if he wasn't really saying it thereby made something very important happen, but all inside.

Who feels changed reading? Who hopes others might be changed reading what we write? What to make of such feelings and hopes?

Certain books have changed my life and beliefs/philosopy on things. When I was well through my first fantasy serial, based on Ojibwa mythology, I decided to try to learn more about the myth system I was so shamelessly appropriating, and picked up a book called "The Manitous." I didn't realize at the time how much it influenced me, but after that book I started reading and learning more. I can safely say that both my reading of such books, and the writing of mine that came about as a result, have changed the entire way I view the world around me. I'm not exaggerating.

Books can change people. But not all people, and not all the time. It really depends on the situation, on what state our mind is in when we read something. If I'd read "The Manitous" at some other point of life, it might not have changed me at all. ETA: Said better here:


It's not the simple process of reading that changes people; choices and actions come from the heart. Books with content that changes the heart can rehabilitate people.


Who hopes others might be changed reading what we write? I hope this of my writing all the time, that it might change somebody the way the things I've read have changed me. What to make of such feelings and hopes? Whatever we wish. I hope to connect to somebody through my work, someday. That's my greatest aim. That way I know my writing means something.

Wayne K
03-14-2009, 08:38 AM
Well, I'd choose reading over prison any day. Even if they made me read Hemingway or Henry James or Stephanie Meyer. *ducks missiles*
T've never read Stephanie Meyer, but that's some exclusive company you have her in.

As far as the question: it would depend on the person and the law they've broken. I can tell you from experience that prison makes a person worse and that reading can certainly make people better. I'm sure they're not giving this option to bank robbers and murderers so I like the idea if it's done right.

Virector
03-14-2009, 08:50 AM
Absolutely! They are powerful tools for shaping people's perceptions and ideas about things. A good, well written book does indeed have the power to change a person; I can personally attest to that fact.

maestrowork
03-14-2009, 12:35 PM
How about instead of swapping books for prison, send them to prison anyway but let them read. And if they change, then lessen their sentences on good behavior.

I believe in compromise. To me, the idea of "let them read" instead of "let them rot in jail" is a bit extreme. Ooh, for all I did, my biggest punishment is that I need to get a library card. Really?

Another
03-16-2009, 01:56 AM
I'd agree that books can change people ...It's not the simple process of reading that changes people; choices and actions come from the heart. Books with content that changes the heart can rehabilitate people.

Yes, good to remember the felons in the cited article are doing more than reading. They are discussing the books in a group, giving opinions, defending same, hearing and reacting to others and otherwise interacting along the way. So, we could say the "treatment" is more than reading, and any heart and head changing probably is coming from an entire process developing sense of self and value.

I was tongue in cheek in saying I'd prefer prison to certain books, just a way of saying I strongly prefer some books and genres to others. And as with other posts here, I would agree certain books at certain life phases have tremendous power over both our writing and world view. If I had to pick the pivotal time and books for me, it would be way back college days casting about after abandoning the Catholic church when I happened upon a "philosophy of literature" class. I hardly realized it at the time, but Camus, Sartre, Malraux, Mann, Dostoyevsky and others eventually brought me to a new philosophical home.

As for our ambition to have our writing influence others, glad to see I am not alone in hoping for the same. Tehuti88 puts it right out there: "I hope this of my writing all the time, that it might change somebody the way the things I've read have changed me ... I hope to connect to somebody through my work, someday. That's my greatest aim. That way I know my writing means something." Bravo. So wonderful to see this in a forum where highest ambitions sometimes get second fiddle, as they must in the midst of all the discussion of our writing craft, the business of publishing, pitching ourselves and our work and other particulars.

Of course, as we all know, it's important to temper the hope of reaching others. Writing too explicitly with such an aim obviously tempts the didactic. Characters must lead the way, with themes convincingly emerging from them. Just thinking of Mann for a moment in his Magic Mountain, I would offer the transformation of Hans Castorp in the key chapter Snow as an example of a compelling moment of realization, where he goes against the nihilism and false reason of two key characters (good old Naphta and Settembrini), comes to grip with death, all the while speaking to an entire age of thought in the aftermath of the "death of God" in literature and philosophy. For those attuned to the thinking of the era, and more than a bit snow lost themselves, the transformation of Hans had tremendous power, perhaps life changing.

Another issue here is how we know if we have connected with the reader in the way Tehuti88 so forthrightly wishes to have happen. Notice sales may not be the indicator of interest. Perhaps a website and blog discussion around a published work helps, or feedback on a book tour (should there be one), and maybe some critical reviews. But there are not readily available barometers to the hearts and souls of readers into which we hope to reach, seems to me.

Perhaps we must simply labor on in hope, never quite knowing, but holding the hope first and foremost, a kind of writerís fate, as Dylan Thomas says in "In My Craft Or Sullen Art:"

...when only he moon rages
and the lovers lie abed
with all their griefs in their arms
I labor by singing light
not for ambition or bread
or the strut and trade of charms
on the ivory stages
but for the common wages
of their most secret hearts ...
who pay no praise or wages
nor heed my craft or art.

Well, let us hope some at least pay heed.

Another

Rarri
03-16-2009, 02:11 AM
Reading can definitely change people, though (and i'll probably write more in the morning when i'm not half asleep) could the course mentioned be having an effect simply because many criminals have little education to begin with and by reading they're imporving their own abilities..?

Ken
03-16-2009, 02:15 AM
reading Jane Austen's books civilized me, some, and made me more polite, e.g. fork on the left, knife on the right...or is it the other way around?

Shadow_Ferret
03-16-2009, 02:20 AM
Change comes from within.

vixey
03-16-2009, 02:24 AM
Change comes from within.

But inspiration can come from external influences... like books.

Claudia Gray
03-16-2009, 03:42 AM
I would have to say that the book And The Band Played On had a huge impact on me; I don't know if I would say it changed me as much as I would say that it made me clarify my thinking, which in turn altered my behavior. I had never been anti-gay, but before I read that book, I had never thought about it much; after I read that book, I became a lot more aware and supportive of gay rights and did about two years of volunteer work at an organization that helped people with AIDS, something I hope to do again. Right now I donate money and lobby. I guess the book made me realize that it was my cause too -- that it was a human cause. Does that count as changing? Depends on how you define the term, I guess, but that book was very powerful for me.

Zipotes
03-16-2009, 05:14 PM
A powerful book will change me. How long that lasts depends.
I know I hate my guy for awhile after reading a romance with a 'too perfect' MC and constantly compare how short he comes to perfection.;)

Red-Green
03-16-2009, 06:14 PM
As the relative of several convicted felons, I think this program could be beneficial, but only for certain participants. For example, I've got a cousin serving on an armed robbery charge. I think he's not a lost cause, but he probably will be after 10-15 years in OSP among other offenders. He could probably benefit from being made to read and analyze literature.

My father on the other hand has borderline personality disorder. He already loves to read and is extraordinarily skilled in manipulation. After spending 15+ years in prison doing nothing but reading, he's still a criminal. *sigh*

citymouse
03-16-2009, 06:34 PM
Let's see, there's Das Kapital (Karl Marx)

Chairman Mao's Little Red Book

Both still for sale on amazon.com

Marx's mother is said to have remarked. "If Karl, instead of writing about capital, had made some capital, things would have been much better."
I'm with the mother on this one!
C

AnonymousWriter
03-17-2009, 12:23 AM
So, wait...I can steal from a shop and get free literature courses for it? :Wha:

I know books can change people. Their opinions/beliefs can change from literature. I just don't think this is the way to do it. If people think this is the way forward then prisoners should be offered more books in prison. After all, they're in there for a reason and books aren't going to change that fact.

TerzaRima
03-17-2009, 01:30 AM
Prison doesn't just serve a rehabilitative function. What about the days when inmates broke up rocks in the hot sun? My point is, has anyone explored the penal quality of literature in this situation?

So can we suggest a punitive course of jailhouse reading for, say, Bernie Madoff?

Marley and Me? The Da Vinci Code? If he polishes off Mitch Albom's entire oeuvre, will he get paroled early?

Nivarion
03-17-2009, 11:29 AM
hey look at the bible. I've seen some massive changes in people who have read it. drop in drinking and reckless activity, higher attentiveness in school and so on and so forth. because they know that god is watching. watching closely.

but um, all joking aside, I'm serious.

although, I don't think its true to say that prison doesn't change people at all. my uncle beat a guy senseless with a pipe when he was... oh about my age. nearly killed him too. Prison straitened my uncle out, gave him perspective on things.

but it would also be invalid to say that a book cannot cause massive change in a person either. sometimes a person is the way they are because they haven't gotten a perspective, haven't seen people who are worse off and better off than they are.

about to ramble so going to hit post.