Fresh evidence that literature rocks, from the Boston Globe: a nice, depth-y article on Why Fiction is Good for You, discussing some recent scientific studies that aspire to prove just that.
Not only does fiction mold how we think, what we believe, and how we behave, apparently it also shapes what we expect from the world and inspires us to act in ways that bring that happy ending about. Or so says this article.
I am still working out whether this positive influence also applies if you spend a lot of time reading, say, Edgar Allan Poe. Or Faulkner.
Quick, help me think of a novel where not a single one of the characters is admirable in any way. I am drawing a blank for any further examples where literature would not be redeeming.
(Hm. New theory in the making: what makes great literature great is having a basically good character trying to figure out how to cope with a basically bad/immoral/ challenging/crazy situation. It's the "good guy in a strange situation" that allows the story to be told in a way we can relate to. That could fit a lot of novels, couldn't it? Too bad I'm not writing papers anymore.)
Meanwhile, reading is making the world a better place in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And isn't that a nice thing to think about!