Monthly Archives: January 2014

Empathy for Our Places

Back in December, we visited the idea that researchers have found, namely that reading literary fiction builds empathy in readers.  This post will explore a little bit more about how empathy might map onto places. As we stated last time, “We here at Placing Literature are trying to find ways that engaging in literature may be a vehicle for engaging in real places – real places where people have attachments.”

What is empathy?  According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings.”  When you can share another person’s feelings, you can understand where they come from and are less likely to judge harshly.

What happens when we map empathy on to places?  In theory, places have experiences and emotions and histories and stories.  We can identify with places, then. This is important, because we all have mental maps or concept maps of our neighborhoods and cities. How we feel about places gets “mapped” onto our understandings of the (spatial) world.

Just like if we read more literary fiction, we can empathize with people, I hope we can begin to think more kindly of places.  Maybe we can think of them as the places where people live and raise families, where people have jobs and lives.

To use an example, Superior, Wisconsin is a place known for its bars.  Outsiders might even think of Superior as “seedy.” But, after reading The Long-Shining Waters by Danielle Sosin, one can think of those bars as places that help shape identities for bar owners and their congregants.  It’s not just a bar near a shipyard, it’s a place where people go to congregate.  It’s a community.

For more reading:

Author Spotlight Mark Haskell Smith

I’d like to say that this month’s author spotlight was chosen because we share a love of tacos and food trucks, but that would only be partly true. Simply put, Mark Haskell Smith is one of the premier humor novelists of our time, and we’re ecstatic that he’s spending January mapping the places in Moist, Salty, Baked, Delicious and his latest novel, Raw: A Love Story.

Raw follows the whirlwind life of Sepp Gregory, a reality TV star and one of People magazine’s “sexiest men alive.” He’s about to embark on a media tour for his debut novel (not that Sepp has read the book. He lived it!). The book becomes a hit, but a respected literary critic is out to reveal the fraud. Raw mainly takes place in cultural landmarks around Los Angeles with side trips to Seattle, San Francisco, New York and the desert between LA and Vegas.

Mark is also mapping The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. According to Mark, “it’s the book that inspired [him] to become a voracious reader, which in turn helped [him] become a writer.” He went on to say that the book is “the portrayal of a completely amoral, psychologically complex and unreliable protagonist that really made me stop and say wow.”

It’s my turn to say wow. I’m consistently amazed at the places our Author Spotlight’s are continually mapping.

Follow Mark’s progress throughout January at and his Twitter account.

IndieReader Author Spotlight David Vinjamuri

January’s IndieReader Author Spotlight is mystery writer David Vinjamuri—whose recently-published second book in the Michael Herne series is getting rave reviews.

While David’s debut novel Operator follows the tension between the protagonist’s current job as an intelligence analyst and his former identity as an Army Operator, his new book Binder is considered more of a classic thriller. We now follow the rehabilitated Michael Herne to Appalachia where he helps track down the daughter of an Army Colonel who was thought to be involved with a group of environmental radicals.

Like his protagonist, David is a former intelligence analyst. He now teaches a master’s level course on branding at NYU and writes a column for I’m excited to see some of the secret places David writes about in Operator and Binder come to life on Placing Literature.

Follow David throughout January on and his blog.