photo of Comfy ChairAn unexpected perk of going back to school is that I’m reading articles and books that I otherwise would not pick up, not because I’m not interested, but simply because a) I wouldn’t have come across them, and b) I wouldn’t have had the motivation of a deadline to finish. (Sidenote: it’s also an underrated perk of freelance indexing.) I’m finding that this infusion of new ideas and perspectives is having an energizing effect on my non-academic writing.

For example, last week one of our reading assignments was “Intimate Relationships Across the Life Span” (in the edited book, Handbook of Lifespan Development, Wiley, 2010). Because part of my current fiction work deals with an older couple, this section on intimate relationships in late life captured my attention:

“[E]ven when day-to-day interactions between older couples involve periodic conflict and strain, the overall social support and stimulating interpersonal exchange afforded by day-to-day contact with an intimate partner has undoubtedly salubrious effect on older adults’ physical and mental well-being.” (p. 411)

This perspective gives a deeper understanding of bickering grandparents who seem, to the outside world, to make each other miserable in small ways every day, but who also need and sustain each other in real ways that go beyond mere habit. The example the professor used were the characters played by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond.

As fiction writers, we wouldn’t, of course, refer explicitly to research that shows the benefits of intimacy later in life even when that intimacy is contentious. But simply having that firm base underneath our characters’ actions and words gives them greater cohesiveness and meaning.

One way to get a small taste of this kind of outside reading without committing to a class or even a book is to subscribe to a well-written blog or two that are in non-literary fields. A couple that my son has recommended to me that I enjoy are Marginal Revolution (economics) and The Monkey Cage (political science).

What are examples of reading outside your comfort zone (or just outside your usual reading habits) that energize and inform your writing?