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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election Reading?

Well, the American election is finally over.  The next American president will be Donald Trump.

I came across an interesting article which informed me about an election year project.  Every Tuesday up to Election Day, Melville House, an independent publisher located in New York, presented stories that interpret the legacies of the 44 men who’ve held the position of United States president, from George Washington to Barack Obama. 


I wonder what the story will be for the 45th president!

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This particular election has been one of the most divisive in American political history.  About a month ago, The Guardian newspaper reported about a project started by Andrew Piper and Richard Jean So, two professors, who wanted to focus on where Republicans and Democrats occupied common ground:  “Rather than look for more divisiveness – clearly an easy find – we set ourselves the more challenging task of trying to discover what we have in common as a culture.”  The two argued that, “Unlike slogans and speeches, literature encourages people to discuss their differences in more thoughtful and flexible ways. We might disagree on a number of issues, but literature helps create a space where we can compromise.”

Using reviews posted on Goodreads.com, they identified readers as liberal or conservative depending on their reading of highly partisan books.  When they catalogued the books of these readers, their “initial results tended to confirm our worst stereotypes. . . . Conservatives like to read low-brow genre fiction such as novels by John Grisham and Tom Clancy, as well as recent book-to-movie titles . . . while liberals enjoy reading more demanding, high-brow novels that win prizes . . . as well as European classics which are often taught at colleges. These lists support polarizing stereotypes that pit sophisticated readers of “difficult” prose (liberals) against simple-minded readers of formulaic fiction (conservatives).” 

But they also we also found a fair number of books that appeared on both types of readers’ shelves in roughly equal amounts.   These they identified as “bridge books”.  With these “bridge books”, they found something interesting:  “when both conservative and liberal readers talk about ‘bridge books’ instead of their usual partisan books, they change their way of talking and thinking in significant ways. They use less negative or hateful language. They use more words related to cognitive insight, such as ‘admit’ and ‘explain’. In short, what is special about these books is that they make readers who otherwise have strong political dispositions become less tribal. When people read these books, they embrace a more tolerant worldview” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/12/goodreads-study-books-bridge-political-divide-america).

For the list of “bridge books”, go to https://cultureaftercomputation.com/2016/10/12/100-books-that-bring-readers-together/.    At this site, you can also access the books that liberals and conservatives prefer.

Perhaps it’s time for Americans to read more of these bridge books.