The first edition of President Suzanne Keen’s new scholarly work, Empathy and Reading, is now available from Routledge. The collection brings together Keen’s previous essays and excerpts on narrative empathy and is organized into three thematic sections: theories, empathetic readers, and interdisciplinary applications.
“The emotional reader, as opposed to the coolly rational evaluator of literary texts, has historically been denigrated, especially at the university level,” Keen says. “But many of us read literature precisely because it brings us joy. It provides us with an escape from the world that we live in, an escape into a fictional world that we co-create with the author in our imagination.”
Keen is an internationally known scholar of empathy and reading, a feminist narrative theorist, and an authority in interdisciplinary empathy research whose work as a scholar, teacher, and leader is animated by an ethics of care. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant and the author of four previous scholarly books, a textbook, and a volume of poetry. Her previous publications include her best-known work, the 2007 book Empathy in the Novel, and her 2014 book, Thomas Hardy’s Brains: Psychology, Neurology, and Hardy’s Imagination, which was a finalist for the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s 2015 Christian Gauss Award.
“As people, it’s in our nature to relate to one another’s stories,” Keen explains. “When we read novels with a sense of empathy, we come away with an improved sense of other people’s perspectives and experiences that are quite different from our own. As we continue to navigate uncertain times, it is vitally important to engage in this kind of empathetic reading and narrative understanding.”