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When we experience empathy, we often seem to feel something -- Keen suggests that we "feel what we believe to be the emotions of others. Also, I found it quite interesting to learn that the word 'empathy' was originally coined to describe the aesthetic moment, or rather, the unity felt between the artwork and the audience.

Let's get practical: all this feeling is good for society. Keen points out that many readers and advocates of reading, and she relies on an analysis of Oprah and her book club to make this argument, call upon readers to empathize with others.

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No matter how different those "others" may be, we can empathize with them and make the world a better place. I'll admit that I was surprised to learn that there are detractors to this position. Recent analysts, particularly those writing from a post-colonial or feminist perspective, point out that empathy is quite reductive.

In feeling what we believe to be the feelings of others, aren't we just overriding the others' feelings with our own? Empathy erases the subject's personality. And then we praise ourselves for it. Others argue that the danger of empathy while reading is that it allows us to feel like we've done something, when all we've actually done is imagined what it would be like to feel an emotion.

The Banality of Empathy

Keen relies on a number of studies to make the point that altruism caused by empathic reading experiences is the exception, not the norm. She points out that the most common perspective that readers have after empathizing with a novel that outlines great difficulty is "it made me feel thankful for what I have. A similar point, I think, has been made by Yann Martel when he discusses his use of animals to generate an emotional response in his readers. People are reluctant to empathize with other people.

And, of course, don't the vast majority of readers, the "low brows," simply read for pleasure? Reading alone may not change the world, but I have read reports that do show that reading with empathy can be personally transforming, especially if readers discuss what they read rather than just closing their book and putting it back on the shelf. However, I do agree with Keen's suggestion that we potentially ruin stories by requiring them to solve the world's problems. After all, there's nothing wrong with "low brow" reading.

I found Empathy and the Novel fascinating throughout and carefully argued. In addition to what I've attempted to summarize here, I'll share that I particularly enjoyed Keen's history of the novel and its transformation from a morally bankrupt form to one whose duty is to save the earth.


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View all 4 comments. Mostly four stars because it is exactly the book I needed for my research, so I spent most of my reading exclaiming "Yes!


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I am both interested and terrified about using her proposals towards a deconstruction of Megan Sweeney 's book group discussions in female prisons. All of Keen's case studies of author-manipul Mostly four stars because it is exactly the book I needed for my research, so I spent most of my reading exclaiming "Yes! All of Keen's case studies of author-manipulated empathy come from novels I've so far avoided.

View 1 comment. Sep 13, Erica rated it it was amazing Shelves: 19th-century-british , candidacy-exams , scholarly , favorites. One of my earliest favorite scholarly books--Keen deconstructs the "empathy thesis" that is at the heart of the humanities. Do books really make us better at feeling for others? Keen tries to treat this as an open question, taking a quasi-scientific "cognitive" approach.

Although later experience has made me more wary of her methodology than I initially was, I'm still enthralled by her ideas upon rereading. Apr 02, Hilary rated it liked it Shelves: grad-class. Well, this was another skimmer--intro, another theoretical chapter, and the rest I didn't really need. Which is ok. Keen--have met her, but not enough to call her Suzanne, though I did hear her joking with a friend that she swims nude--is an accessible writer, and her idea is pretty valid, I think, but I just don't plan to cite this much, so I didn't read it super closely.

Jun 03, Ingeborg rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction-theory , women-authors , reading. Very interesting and intriguing read! Can reading improve our empathy?

11 Touching Books to Boost Empathy in Teen Readers

Do emphatic people simply read more? Can empathy have bad effects? Does identification with the characters in the novel, and the fact that one feels empathy with them, has any effects on empathy or even altruism in real life? I will certainly come back to it The downside is that it is tooo long and the author often repeats herself. Sep 21, Hannah Givens rated it liked it Shelves: history , nonfiction. A good aggregation of a lot of scientific studies of empathy, and a worthwhile note that empathy can have negative results. On the whole, though, the book often seemed directionless, and I didn't get a good sense of the author's overall argument or thrust.

Feb 02, Holly rated it it was amazing. So far so good. I'll have a full book report done soon as I am assigned to write one. Feb 19, Magdalena rated it liked it. Very useful!


  1. The Role of Animals in Emerging Viral Diseases;
  2. BBC - Future - Does reading fiction make us better people?.
  3. Empathy and the Novel by Suzanne Keen.
  4. Relatable: Empathy, Novels, and Picky Readers | SOAS University of London.
  5. Introduction.
  6. Jun 10, Peter Makai rated it it was amazing. Showed to me the dark side of empathy and the reason for some critics' and authors' objection to empathy as a means to knowing. May 02, Josephine Ensign rated it liked it. Some interesting things I gleaned from this book but mostly it reminded me of how pedantic and long-winded academic-types can be on most any subject imaginable.

    Empathy And the Novel - Suzanne Keen - Google книги

    Brian rated it it was amazing Feb 21, Zvonimir rated it really liked it Oct 25, Ryan rated it liked it Oct 20, Jamie Bernthal rated it it was ok May 03, Katja rated it liked it Apr 28, Leif rated it liked it Mar 10, Rico Abrahamsen rated it really liked it Feb 16, Those cells became a vital tool in modern medicine, though Henrietta and her legacy remained virtually unknown until now. One child is a prisoner and the other is the son of the Commandant. This heartwarming novel deals with class and racial inequality in the American South in the s.

    This novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe illuminates the struggles of a young villager adapting to a Western lifestyle after leaving Nigeria for a British education and a job in the Nigerian colonial civil service.

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    It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women's issues and is considered an important work in early feminism. Which empathy-building books would you recommend for teen readers? Let us know in the comments below! Night by Elie Wiesel Amazon.