Andromeda: What we like to read and share best — some hope for writers

Got a little lift from this New York Times article a few weeks ago. I’ll explain what I think (hope) it means for writers, but first, the background…

John Tierney writes that University of Pennsylvania researchers studied the NYT list of most e-mailed articles over six months. What do you think people shared most? (Little mental exercise here as you imagine the worst — at least, I did. I figured people probably emailed articles about the latest-breaking scandals, disasters, celebrities, or just plain weird stuff.)

Turns out, “people have more exalted tastes,” the researchers found. People preferred emailing positive articles to negative ones, and — an even bigger surprise — liked to send long (bless their hearts) articles on intellectually challenging topics. Most of all, “readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list.”

The researchers themselves expected more sharing of articles about gadgets, for example, or articles that inspired fear. Instead, they found people shared articles with a large scale that required ” ‘mental accomodation’ by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.” Sharing these awe-inspiring articles was a way to create “mental communion” with others.

Yes, the study was about nonfiction newspaper articles. But if you’re looking for a lift today — as you write that long and thoughtful book of nature essays, or follow your passions into a novel that may be intellectually challenging for the reader — take heart. Maybe audiences are smarter and more patient than we think. Maybe there is hope both for writers of serious books, and for the written word in general.

6 thoughts on “Andromeda: What we like to read and share best — some hope for writers”

  1. God bless us, everyone (or whatever your equivalent of god is).

    That's heartening news in this wacked out world. Thanks. Perhaps all is not lost.

  2. Re Deb's link to Miami Herald and its subject matter:
    Here we have another writer asking someone to run for office, not because they want them elected but because they think it'll accomplish the writer's hopes in a round-about-way.

    CAUTION, please! I hear a lot of this. We create our world. Let us aim for the situations/candidates we TRULY want, and avoid inadvertently creating "monsters". I fear a very bad, sickly-humorous-in-a-horrible-way result from what writers like this are fostering.
    How about we all find the best candidates – and write about THEM – so that either result will be as good as we can get.
    Cynicism is often a "parent" to self-fulfilling bad juju.

    I need to go listen to some Denis Leary CDs now and regain some balance!

  3. Good point, Anonymous, though I think behind what might appear as cynicism lurks a line in the sand that American culture (if only it were that easy) should consider: do we value reasoned discussion and intelligent dialogue, or do we rely on anger and celebrities (on both ends of the political spectrum)to guide us? In short, I think Pitts would agree with you. Intelligent discourse matters. The writer's challenge is how to approach themes that matter to them. Satire, cynicism, hyperbole – they make us uncomfortable, but the writer hopes they also provoke us to think.

  4. Deb, I agree with you that provocation makes us think,but I think we have also gone off the cliff in America with it.

    My chrystal ball tells me that American readers are going to be looking for books that go beyond the provocative (because I think we'll all been provoked into a coma and there are no "reliable narrators" anymore, anywhere).

    I think readers want, more and more, to read something that demonstrates how to do something (have a good life, elect a candidate, etc.)as opposed to demonstrating why doing the wrong thing (go sarah!!)is going to work because we're too stupid to find a better way.

    Or, in other words, with everybody shouting in a room, it's the guy who whispers whom people will lean in to hear. We need a politician whisperer, maybe?

    I still have hope but I'm not sure why. I guess it's because it's the thing worth believing in.

    Anyhoo – that's my soapbox today. Thank god for comedians, eh?

    I really appreciate this site. Go writers! May we all "go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence."
    Gee – I haven't quoted Kahlil Gibran in about 25 years. What's happening to me??!

  5. Wonderful quote, Anonymous. And I love what you say about whispering. It works with my dog. Why not our nation?

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top