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English professor’s new book explores why Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck

Newswise — Winston-Salem, NC, Feb. 29, 2012 - What draws us to the darker side? What compels us to look whenever we pass a grisly accident on the highway and drives us to watch horror movies and television coverage of disasters?

Eric G. Wilson, a literature professor and a lifelong student of the macabre, set out to discover the source of people’s attraction to the morbid, drawing on the perspectives of biologists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians and artists.

Wilson shares his findings in his latest book Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck. He is the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest University.

Citing everything from elephant graveyards and Susan Sontag’s On Photography to the Tiger Woods sex scandal and the movie Steel Magnolias, Wilson finds heartening truths in the darker side of our psyches.

“The morbidity of sorrow,” he says, “is often a productive sluggishness, a time when the soul slows down, too weary to go on, and takes stock of where it’s been and where it’s going. During these gloomy pauses, we often discover parts of ourselves we never knew we possessed, talents that, properly activated, enrich our lives. “

Wilson says there’s something nourishing in the darkness. “It might also be compulsion toward grim happenings that are relevant toward one’s own life—that help one manage dangerous fears and desires, to learn what is essential and what is not,” he writes. “Morbid curiosity is, on yet another plane, a spiritual yearning, a hunger to penetrate the most profound mysteries of existence.”

Wilson is the author of five books on the relationship between literature and psychology. His 2008 book, Against Happiness became a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, published in February, has received national attention and was named one of the “Must-Read Books in March” by O, The Oprah Magazine.