Years ago, while five months pregnant with my first child, I sang at a fellow graduate student's wedding. (In retrospect, I'm not sure what she was thinking when she asked or what I was thinking when I agreed to warble my second-trimester-breathless way through "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring." I can only hope that they've edited out that portion of their wedding video). As a thank-you, she gave me a lovely antique lace doohickey and a wonderful book: The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination by Robert Coles, PhD.
One might easily think that Coles, a psychologist whose work has centered on early learning experiences, would discuss how important stories are to being human - but because he's Robert Coles, he goes a step further and connects "being human" to making moral choices. His thesis (very loosely stated), based on work with professional and graduate students, is that readers use stories as a way to think about their own moral decisions - sometimes reaffirming correct ones, sometimes rethinking others.
This adds an entirely new dimension to a debate that has gone on for decades, if not centuries, between people who believe that a story's a story and people who believe that a story is important only if it's couched a certain way. Recently this debate has been added to by a blog post here that I responded to here.
However, neither of the above-linked posts mentioned this Colesian idea directly, and I think it's worth bringing in to the discussion. If part of the "call of stories" is to help everyday people think about moral choices, does this mean that we should (as the first blogger, Sonya Chung, believes) push them towards finer literature that often includes more ambiguity about moral choices (not that the best literature is necessarily ambiguous about those choices in the end)? Or should we allow them, as I posit, to find books that speak to them and their circumstances?
I suspect that the answer is a combo platter, but I also suspect that it will be a far tastier dish if lots of people weigh in with their thoughts. I know, for example, that one of the reasons I can't get enough of very traditional detective novels (e.g., P.D. James) is because the central "inspector"character functions so beautifully as a moral authority.
Which books or authors call to your moral center?