Jenefer Robinson’s Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and its Role in Literature, Music, and Art is one of the most insightful and useful books I’ve ever read about emotions, writing, and music–but it’s also sometimes dry and argumentative, and deals with examples mostly 100 years old or older despite having been written in the past decade.
In the book, Robinson puts forward an idea of how emotions work that is based on detailed and conscientious delving into the philosophy and especially the psychology of emotions. Her conclusions are consistent with all the psychological research I’ve come across and more that she cites, and they go a long way toward describing how emotions develop, arise, change, are understood, and affect our lives. As though that weren’t enough, she then goes into the pivotal role emotion plays in how we react to stories (she deals with novels specifically) and music of all kinds. She describes emotion convincingly as a process and makes intelligent and (for writers and musicians) practical observations on how the arts can engage us through emotional development.
The book is written in an academic style, and as a philosopher, it’s apparently Robinson’s job to describe in detail and then argue apart other people’s theories about the subjects she’s examining. These argumentative sections (and they make up a good chunk of the book) were not helpful to me: I’m not very interested in hearing a theory that I don’t agree with and then hearing it dismantled with great care and thoroughness. Other readers may be; as for me, there were some parts of the book I skipped once I realized what she was doing. Fortunately, she lays out carefully what she’s going to discuss in each section, so I was able to fairly easily figure out what to read and what not to.
Dry arguments or not, on the whole I would say the book is one of the most useful possible things you can read if you are a serious writer or musician, if you’re seeking a deeper understanding of emotions, or if you want to better understand why we connect so deeply with some novels, films, stories, and music (and to some extent other arts).