Literature and Transformation

Literature and Transformation

A Narrative Study of Life-Changing Reading Experiences

By Thor Magnus Tangerås

Anthem Studies in Bibliotherapy and Well-Being

An inquiry into readers’ experiences of life-changing encounters with works of literature, the book uncovers the relationships between life-crises, being moved by literature and transformation of the self.

Hardback, 238 Pages


February 2020

£80.00, $125.00

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About This Book

This book is an inquiry of how the reading of imaginative literature may be experienced as life changing. Previous research has shown that many readers have found a particular work of fiction to be of significant help to them in dealing with personal issues. Furthermore, experimental studies reveal that readers experience self-modifying feelings during the act of reading. Research in psychological aesthetics indicates that the hitherto neglected phenomenon of being moved may be central to transformative experiences with art, and may be a more productive point of departure than emotion-based approaches. How may transformative aesthetic experiences produce lasting change and become integrated into the person’s life-story, and how is such subjective change related to the experience of being moved? The aim of this book is, through interviews with readers who have experienced life-changing encounters with particular works of fiction, to present new knowledge about transformative reading experiences and the relationships between life-crises, affective modes of transaction with literary works, and qualitative change experiences. Such knowledge will contribute to our understanding of the affective aspects of reading and life-stories of change. This theoretical knowledge may also have practical application for the intermediation of literature. The investigation has a trans-disciplinary orientation towards reader response studies, literary scholarship, psychological aesthetics and narrative psychology.

The method developed, intimate reading, is a hermeneutically oriented narrative inquiry. The process of data production is envisaged as subservation, using a form of open interview which combines facilitating the participant’s relating their experience with a shared reading of selected significant passages of the work in question. Furthermore, it involves presenting the participant’s narrative in full. The logic of inquiry rests on anteroduction, which is argued as a particular circular mode of inference implicit in modern hermeneutics. The collected data were subjected to a critical selection process in which the construct of life-changing fiction-reading experiences was determined through comparative narrative analysis. Five narratives are presented and interpreted in-depth. These interpretations are structured around the tripartite division into life-crisis, transaction with literary work (affective realisation and mode of engagement) and resolution.

The works that have changed the participants in this inquiry are highly diverse; this confirms previous research. The present inquiry contributes new knowledge about the kinds of life-crises that may be resolved through transformative encounters with fiction, and the kinds of qualitative changes that may result. The mode of engagement was found to be one that combines bodily and affective aspects, in which metaphors related to nourishment and the heart were prominent. Accordingly, I have named this transaction reading by heart, or lexithymia. These qualitative descriptions add to our knowledge of the affective aspects of reading, and can serve to expand the critical vocabulary for discussing affection. From this understanding of varieties, commonalities and typical characteristics of life-changing reading experiences I have, through a process of abduction, sought to develop a theory of transformative affective patterns that combine life-crises, aesthetics and literary protogenres to form a comprehensive and exhaustive system of transformative relations. The inquiry concludes that the transformative reading experience is one of being deeply moved, and being moved is a catalyst for altering aspects of the self. The subjective change is thus a reflective process of integrating the alteration into the self-concept and may subsequently be experienced as ‘shaping’ the life-story.


‘This highly original and illuminating book is a methodological tour de force offering rich and compelling means to analyse, understand and demonstrate the transformative power of literary reading in its living context. Essential reading for everyone concerned with the place of literature in the world today.’ —Josie Billington, Professor of English Literature, University of Liverpool, UK

Thor Magnus Tangerås’s book on life-changing encounters with literature is a groundbreaking work within reading research and the psychology of reading, adding new perspectives and knowledge to our understanding of the reading experience.’ —Ragnar Audunson, Professor, Library and Information Science, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

Author Information

Thor Magnus Tangerås is an associate professor of rhetoric at Kristiania University College, Oslo. He teaches courses in rhetoric and narrative methods.


Anthem Studies in Bibliotherapy and Well-Being

Table of Contents

Preface; Acknowledgements; Chapter One: Introduction; Chapter Two: Intimate Reading: A Narrative Method; Chapter Three: Veronica’s Bruise; Chapter Four: Nina’s Life- Long Friend Flicka; Chapter Five: Esther’s Episode; Chapter Six: Jane’s Visionary Reading; Chapter Seven: Sue’s Buried Life; Chapter Eight: Reading by Heart: Lexithymia and Transformative Affective Patterns; Bibliography; Index.


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