Which did come first? Does anyone know for certain? Or is it just a matter of opinion? Hmm. I can’t say I lose much sleep pondering the answer to this particular question. But here’s another. Do people become readers partly because they feel a deep empathy for all people, regardless of gender, race, religion, or condition in life? Or do they develop empathy because they are readers? Or am I simply begging the questions here? Are readers perhaps no more willing to sympathize with or at least understand characters who do not fit the moral or societal norm than non-readers?

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For as far back as I can remember I have had the ability to put myself into the body and mind and soul of almost anyone (yes, there are a few exceptions, which I won’t go into here). I can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, so to speak. I can make the imaginative leap into the plight of someone who is blind or deaf or traumatized by war or destitute or abused or exceptionally beautiful or gifted or wealthy or powerful or popular. At least, I think I can, and usually if I have taken a particular risk in a certain book someone who knows will let me know that I got it right. I remember the first time a man asked to read one of my books. I was horribly dismayed–he was a very well-educated man–but I could hardly say no. I was enormously relieved when he commented afterward that I had got the hero’s point of view right. I say all this not to boast, and some may disagree anyway, but to make the point that I think it is essential for a writer to be able to identify with all types, to show them as they are without judgment, not all white or ย all black but of varying shades (not necessarily 50) of gray. ย I think writers almost have a duty to show who their characters are, where they come from, why they think and speak and behave as they do–and to make it seem real. You won’t find many unredeemable villains in my books or many (if any) faultless heroes and heroines. Often the villain in one of my books will be the hero or heroine of another.

Any writer ought to present life as it is, even if it is couched in fantasy or science fiction or–gasp!–romance. We should be able to feel after we have read a book that we have looked a little more deeply into life than we had before we read it. Which is not to say that we cannot read for pure pleasure too. Who decided that there was a difference between serious literature and literature for pleasure?

And what about the reader? Is it possible to be an avid reader and yet be rigidly judgmental about people? I am really not quite sure of the answer–maybe some of you will have something to say in your comments. I can remember as a teacher coming across set attitudes that could not be shifted. Macbeth leaps to mind as an example. Some students could simply not accept Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as tragic figures who had done a terrible evil but were not inherently evil in themselves. I had to accept their right to their opinions, of course, and I could always understand their point of view. But it amazed me too that they could not climb inside the minds of the Macbeths to feel the agony there. (I am not saying that agony was not deserved–and that is really the whole point!) I wish I could know how many of those students became lifelong readers. Perhaps they all did and there goes my theory! Or perhaps, if they did continue to read, they came to see that good and evil are not such simple concepts as they may seem.


I have finally had my copies of A CHRISTMAS PROMISE with the new cover. Apparently the publication date was put back to November 26 but no one thought to let me know! So these are still advance copies though the book itself is not new. Let me celebrate by sending a copy each to three of you who make a comment below before the end of next Friday, November 15. Last week’s winner was Cindy O’Hearn. Congratulations to her, and thanks to all of you who left comments.

126 Replies to “THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?”

  1. I think people who empathize become readers, it allows you to relate to characters and feel what they feel. That feeling for me is what draws me to reading. I love getting lost in the world that the author has created. I especially love series where I can see the development of the characters and I feel like I grow with them.

  2. Quite thought provoking! How can you be an author, one who has so many varied characters, and not be able to identify with each of them? You’re obviously very talented as you have that ability. Bravo!

  3. I think it’s helpful to try to understand people, characters & circumstances – it adds a lot of richness to fiction and to life.

  4. I love to get inside the characters and feel the things they feel. Reading, as a child, let me know that my existence could be changed.

  5. I believe that people do learn to be more empathetic as they read more books because it is true in my case, and I also very much agree with that man who said that you get a character’s point of view because every time I read any of your books, I fall in love with every single characters and cares for them deeply. You are the only author I know who can build up a character very well, and I thank you for that because I truly enjoy your books.

  6. Such a thoughtful blog post! I’ve been typing and deleting my response for several minutes because I just don’t feel like I am answering your questions very well. I’ll have to think longer about this.

  7. I love all your books, all of your characters feel real. No one is always good, right, smart, brave or evil. People are usually a mix of emotions, we show love, envy, hate, jealousy and compassion. Otherwise they would come off as cardboard people.

  8. I don’t know if your theory has merit or not, but I do know this, of all my friends, with the exception of my LGTB friends, my reader friends tend to be the most sympathetic and the more likely to empathize with someone or something. Whether that comes from reading or not remain to be see but I do believe reading gives a person a broader view of the world and an inherent ability to be able to be more emphatic. My LGTB friends on the other hand whether they are readers or not are more sympathetic because of the bullying, rejection and hate the suffer at the hand of hateful spiteful and horrible human beings.

  9. I read because there are amazing writers (like you!) who lead me away to another place with your stories, and there you teach me things, expand my thoughts, and allow me to see with fresh eyes when I return to the world in which I live.

    Forget chickens and eggs. If there’s not the encouragement of good writing, there’s no reason to read.

  10. I didn’t become an avid reader until I was around 13 years old. Before that my mother couldn’t argue me into reading for school assignments even. At some point though I realized the world I could be a part of by simply reading. A well written character story will still catch me every time. I laugh out loud at some of the witty banter. I cry when emotions run high (the scene when the Duke of Bewcastle hugs Alleyne on the steps of Lindsay Hall, that one got me). I read for enjoyment, to live the lives of others, to experience their heartbreak and joy. I love to get lost in books (as a mom of a special needs kiddo, getting away for short bursts of time is a wonderful way to break the stress of daily life).

    That said, I can always use a new book to get lost in for a little while. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I read because I really enjoy it. I have since I was little. Loved sitting in the library, hearing the hiss of the steam heat and smelling the books. I don’t think I’m empathtic – or at least not more than others. I read historical romances(LOVE your writing) and not much more!

  12. I agree with another person on here, the chicken came first. And I think everyone can be a reader, no matter if they empathize or not. I know I get very connected to each character I read and I’ve cried a thousand time over a make believe person, my husband on the other hand is different. He loves to read, he reads everything he can, but he has no empathy. He simply cannot understand or display feelings or emotions. Maybe that’s just him, but either way, it’s left us with a very open marriage as far as communication goes. I have to tell him how he’s messed up LOL!

  13. I can’t wait to read A Christmas Promise!

    I think people become readers for all different reasons. I did not grow up a reader, but became on in my early 20s after a new years resolution which was to get a library card. I found reading so enjoyable that I was quickly hooked! Now I escape on adventures, fall in love with rogues, and laugh my troubles away with good books. Reading is a wonderful way to enjoy time!

  14. Definitely something to think about. I think readers can put themselves in the story, whether it be the hero, heroine or another character. I think if they encounter something they have never experienced then they learn empathy for that situation. I am looking forward to reading your book. Thank you for the opportunity to win.

  15. I like being able to empathize with characters, see something in a disagreeable one that might redeem them. I love getting to the psychological aspect of why people or characters do what they do. I want to pick them apart and get to the heart of them….I think thats part of the reason I am a nurse….

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  16. Personally, I think I developed more empathy through reading a wide variety of genres and styles and time periods. I was raised to think of others and to do for others, and you can learn a lot about individuals that way, but I don’t think I could have gotten the diversity of cultures and viewpoints from anywhere other than books.

  17. I’ve loved to read since I was in third grade. It’s my comfort and joy when I’m having a busy day or I’m in a difficult situation. It’s an important part of my life. I can’t imagine my life without a good book to read. And thanks to great authors like Mary Balogh, there are always new books to forward to.
    Thank you for continuing to write, Mary. I always look forward to reading your newest book.

  18. I think books have changed how I see certain people I love the Outlander series and John Grey is a favorite. I have watched several tv shows with Gay characters and that has opened my eyes further. The final step was a favorite nephew came out as a gay man.
    Interestingly I have trouble with religious characters. I am a faithful churchgoer yet most of today’s overtly Christian stories I don’t like. I am not however a conservative believer and that is the key.
    In any event the book lovers I know are are opened minded. Several are conservative minded but seem to enjoy more liberal themes.
    I felt moved to respond. I already, of course, have the book. Are you going to write a story for the duke in your survivors series? As I get older I like older characters.

      1. I am glad. I look forward to all your books, but that one especially. Assuming you don’t pair him with some 20 year old and I trust you won’t.

  19. Good for you, Cindy, on your win!

    As for the pondering question….no idea. LOL I think I tend to be a little judgemental at times. And often about characters in the stories I love to read. I try watch myself and keep an open mind. But alas, it doesn’t always happen.
    I am not sure it would stop people from reading. They would just read different stories. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Mary –

    I loved when you said ” I can walk a mile in someone elseโ€™s shoes”. It reminded me of one summer when I was still in Grade School when I spent as much time as possible in the small village I grew up in at it’s small library exploring all the books they had in the “biography” section reading about famous woman like Mirie Currie’s accomplishments like being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in two fields and was a physicist and chemist, famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity.. Finding out a woman

    Back in the 1950’s to find out a woman could actually work at all and be successful was an eye opener to me as a young girl when in my neighborhood none of the women including my mother had a car to drive and stayed at home. It really for the first time made me wonder why my teacher that year had told me that when I had been tested I didn’t “fit in” to any of the categories of a “girl” was suppose to excel at! Instead of being able to write a creative story I would write like someone would do for a newspaper – the facts and only the facts. I also excelled in science and math but “creative writing” was something out of my reach.

    I think that’s one of the things I’ve always loved about reading – it opens your mind to other places, time and circumstances that in your own limited world you might never had encountered. It opens your mind and you can travel the world and through time periods without ever leaving home. You don’t always have to agree with what you’re reading but for me it always opened up the possibility of greater understanding and that what I think is the right thing isn’t necessarily the same as others and what is right for you may not be right for others.

    Open a book and you’ll open up the world!


  21. Am not sure about the egg or chicken question. But I can definitely say that being an avid reader has made me a more tolerant human being of the differences present in others. I am able to empathize and even sympathize with people. It also has helped me in anger management. I now have an extremely long and slow fuse that is next to impossible to be lit. And even during the rare occasion I lose my temper, I never raise my voice or use any bad language. I try to rationalize and make the other person understand why I am angry and what it is about that I am angry.

    On a different note, let me take this time to thank you for all your wonderful books. They transport me to a new world which I adore. Thank you

  22. So excited to find your blog. You are one of my favorite authors. The blog and Facebook page show your wonderful sense of intellectual curiosity and superb sense of humour. And cannot wait to read your latest book. I live in a house of males and a great romantic read takes me away from the reality of being a working mom.

    I love all history. I love to read. I love the distraction. People in real life can annoy me. I am much more empathetic when reading.

  23. I think the act of reading itself shows one’s willingness to open oneself to diverse characters, places and opinions. I’ve read characters that I’ve sympathized with and yet was appalled by at the same time, like the heroine in Forever Amber. But it also takes a good writer to show that the characters aren’t totally black or white. It’s up to the writer to show the different layers hidden inside each character. If one reads different genres by different authors I would think they’re open to accept different people, cultures and opinions.

  24. I think perhaps it is a bit of both. As a reader I love when the author presents me with someone struggling with something I have never struggled with personally. You do a phenomenal job of describing why your characters are the way they are, and how they respond to their own struggles.

    My favorite “wounded” characters of yours are Syd and Anne, I am rereading their love story now! After rereading the Bedwyn series I simply had to go on to the Simply series (pun not intended, happy mistake). I am always fond of the Simply series because it was the first series I read by you.

  25. very thought provoking, I love the depth you give to your characters, they are very real, not superficial “romance” characters. I feel that I hear them speak, and can feel their pain or other emotions, many times I have been reading and crying … I also love that I cannot think ahead and “know how it ends”, there are twists and turns . I just enjoy your books and really appreciate that you have such talent, and willing to share it with everyone. Thank you.

  26. I read for many reason. Enjoyment, education, empathy. I don’t think I would ever be able to know for sure how someone feels to be blind, deaf, handicapped. I don’t anyone can know what it is like to lose a child unless they have actually experienced it.

  27. This is an interesting subject you’ve brought up on your website. I think that one reason that I have always enjoyed your books is that you do usually tend to have characters with interesting and sometimes complex/surprising personalities. Plus, I really enjoy the humor that you often include in our books. Your female subjects that have a sarcastic, intelligent sense of humor are my favorite. Thank you, for many hours of reading books that I enjoy so much that I hate turning the last page.

  28. You are my favorite author. I belong to a paper back swap club on the internet and get a lot if your books through members. I do so enjoy your books. Thank

  29. I think you must be extremely empathetic Mary. I don’t think I am nearly that empathetic. When you mentioned MacBeth, I could see that quite clearly. I don’t think I had one empathetic thought for them. I certainly didn’t and, maybe, couldn’t put myself in their places. One of the reasons, I think, was my difficulty with “interpreting” Shakespeare. (In fact, while I was at Chapters/Indigo last night, I was wondering if they still have “Coles notes”!) I couldn’t wade through those difficulties to barely reach the meaning, never mind the feeling. And another reason, that I am fairly confident of, was that reading MacBeth (and any other required reading) took my time away from what I really wanted to read!
    Thanks for this chance!

  30. By the way, I do believe that reading books with subjects of varying backgrounds, etc., does make a reader think, and hopefully become more empathetic to some who they might not have even thought about relating to before said reading.

  31. I have loved books all my life. Reading is a necessity for me. When my late grandmother (who never read) used to comment on the amount of books I had, I would reply, “They are food for the mind, Grandma.” Many in my family, on both sides, are readers too. Maybe reading has something to do with the genes. Thank you for the giveaway.

  32. Sometimes I have pondered the whole chicken and egg issue. But frankly, I get lost in a sense of non-importance. As with sensitivity, some people have it and some people don’t. It is impossible after the fact to force someone to develop sensitivity. Makes no difference when you discover it.

  33. Interesting question…I do think that people who read widely are more able to put themselves in others’ shoes. I think though that one has to have an imagination and be able to fall into a book. I also think the key is reading widely. If one sticks to a genre that fits into one’s present world, one does not expand her (his) horizons. I cannot remember a time that I did not read. My mother was one of the kindest people I know and she used to encourage me to read all sorts of books. We had no money for books, but a lovely library several blocks away.
    Your books are very good at showing the human sides of your characters. Characters can be forgiven (although I am glad you did not bring Lionel Kersey back and try to make him a hero–he was too evil!). Characters change and grow. Even the most top lofty characters are not really snobs (Oh Wulfric, you do not fool us!).
    Reading is the best gift! It keeps giving. It keeps teaching.

  34. Everytime I open a new book, it is like opening a door into a new adventure. I can’t honestly say if reading has made me more empathic or not – I’ve always pretty much lived with my heart on my sleeve, and I cry over Hallmark commercials – but I really enjoy a book that makes me sink into the characters and become part of their life. Every now and then you hit that magic book or series of books that make you feel like you have found some family that you’d lost and it feels so good coming home to them. Your stories give me characters that make me laugh and cry, feel their pain and their triumphs. thank you for that and keep them coming!

  35. I have been an avid reader since I was about 8 years old. I’ve read all kinds of books(romance, mystery, biographies, true stories) in the last 50 years. I don’t just enjoy reading, I love it. I have many favorite authors with you at the top of the list. Your books are so special with characters who are real. Thank you Mary for enriching my life.

  36. Well, the egg came first. Other types of animals were reproducing from eggs long before there were actual chickens. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    As for the other topic, in my experience, young people think in terms of right/wrong black/white. Life experience tends to make us more empathetic, and in lieu of actually life experience, exposure to other types of people/places/experiences through literature can serve that purpose. When I was young I was encouraged to read and also encouraged to read many different types of literature. I think that exposure helped make me more empathetic to people in real life.

  37. Mary, I believe your capacity to empathize to the extent you do is what makes your stories hugely entertaining. It makes you a writer, and those who are drawn to your stories are able to empathize with the characters you sketch. I don’t think most people are naturally as empathetic; however, I appreciate and benefit from your ability!

  38. I find myself weeping when good things happen and at sad things. I see other people cry and I start weeping. Even people I don’t know. I’ve learned to be selective about what I read.

  39. I know I’ve become more empathetic over the years from both reading and raising children. Both activities take you out of your own self as the center of the universe. Thank you Mary, for all the wonderful books you’ve written. You’ve quite spoiled me for any other author and I tend to read just your books over and over again. ๐Ÿ™‚

  40. I think readers must be naturally empathetic. How can you root for someone, be concerned for them, wonder how on earth they will ever achieve their happily ever after if you don’t feel something for them? Readers want to know what others are experiencing. They want to experience other cultures, lives, histories, places, worlds and I think that desire comes from an innate ability to slip into another person’s skin. I often think readers might well be the salvation of civilization if given the chance.

  41. With some forethought but not deeply thinking about the question, is it the chicken or egg which comes first in readers, I say this: I believe that reading starts with the need to know. It is a form of communication that allows others to gain someone else’s knowledge and someone else’s experiences. It appears to me that the drive to know and understand develops intelligence and compassion. So in answer to your question, one becomes a reader and compassion develops from this knowledge, a by product so to speak, of other people’s plights. Now that being said, it doesn’t exclude the ability to learn compassion without reading. But I don’t believe that compassion is the driving force to read.

  42. I absolutely love your books! They are worth waiting for when the date is pushed back! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thank you for the giveaway.

  43. I have liked characters immediately & some reluctantly.Some I like w/o even understanding why I sympathize with them.But the way you introduced the subject does allow me to segue into tee shirt philosophy :”I dream of a society in which a chicken can cross the road without being questioned “

  44. Reading has opened my mind to endless possibilities! I recently read a book “Me Before You” regarding the quality of life & whether or not someone could end their life–I thought my ideas were established but this book allowed me to realize that there is often more than one way to approach a problem & many valid solutions.

  45. My earliest memories are of reading. I read everything I could get my hands on and then some. I believe that it has given me the ability to walk in many shoes.

  46. I think readers and writers are great observers. They study scene, character and plot in the world around them, does that make them inherently empathetic? I don’t think so, maybe they are content to let the story unfold and accept whatever outcome ensues. Readers my be more understanding of motivation, but not empathetic.

  47. i have just finished reading the arrangement,loved it cant afford to buy more than 2 books a month,try to get all at the library but only have so many.I would love to win a book an one of yours please an thank u very much.Hope i have a chance!!!

  48. All of your books reflect the effort to understand why people behave as they do. Empathy with your often troubled and problematic characters is indeed what sets your books apart from the vast majority of this genre or indeed many others and what makes them so attractive – at least to me. A Christmas Promise has always been a favorite – Hard to think of another author who “does” Christmas as well a you. Please keep on writing!

  49. Hmm, I believe I have always had a lot of empathy for others and have always been able to step back and looks at another person’s situation before judging them in anything. But I also think books will help you to realize that you never know what is going on in a person’s life and that you should not judge them just based on what you see.

  50. Scientifically speaking the egg came first. The animal ‘closest’ to a chicken laid an egg that mutated or dna combined differently or something like that which then produced the first chicken.

    Empathy, tolerance, the big picture, these are all things that I value highly in my friends. My friends are all avid readers. No science here, just belief.

  51. I read purely for pleasure and you have become my favorite author. I have reread many of my favorite books by you because of the wonderful characters you create. I was lucky to get a copy from the library of “Thief of Dreams”. I loved the way Cassandra and Nigel evolved. They were definitely complex characters who had much to deal with in life. Which in turn had me reflecting on how people change due to circumstances and experience.

  52. For me is a matter of evolving as a reader. I can say the more books of different topics a person reads presents the opportunity to learn about all kinds of people in many different situations that are far removed from our own experiences and is this exposure that allows us to develop a deeper level of empathy, understanding and tolerance.

  53. I’d like to think that reading and being an avid reader gives me extra insight into people and extra empathy, but I think it really depends on who you are to start with. An open-minded person reads the same book and takes away something different. What you get out of the book is an extension of who you are.

    I think a well-written book with fleshed out characters and scenarios can hand you the seed of understanding a new situation or a new culture or a new person but if you yourself are not open, then you take away plots and archetypes. Hopefully by reading more, when you do open up, there is an epiphany. ๐Ÿ™‚ So it’s not a lost cause, just a long process.

  54. Point of view is always tricky. As long as I have been reading your books you have developed the hero’s point of view really well. The first book I read of yours was Tangled in 1994 and I have been a fan ever since.

  55. I love your books! I don’t know what to say to the POV thing… what I do know is that I can always connect with your characters and understand their motives, the same with Nalini Singh.

  56. The chicken or the egg, the egg or the chicken – I don’t think we’ll ever get a definitive answer for that question. I do think that you are a great writer because you are able to connect with readers when you put yourself in the shoes of your characters. The readers can learn more about your characters through their point of view and it makes the stories more engaging. Thanks for the chance to win! ๐Ÿ™‚

  57. I believe reading helped me become a more understanding person, able to see beneath the public facade people show the world. The phrase, “You just never know,” became a private mantra. I’ve been a lifelong reader-lucky me!-and I’ve learned all about “shades of gray.” Of course, becoming older helped me see more clearly, too. I’m not so impatient with people or their foibles. You write wonderful books with fully developed characters that seem as real as my family and friends. Thanks, Mary!

  58. Reading has made me more empathetic because I’m more able to put myself in another person’s shoes. It’s authors like you who help me be more open minded to other people’s plights. Thanks Mary!

  59. I think empathy comes to a reader because of how an author depicts the character. I think I empathized the most with Con in “A Secret Affair”. He, of course, was in all the Huxtable books. His relationship with his brother, Jonathan, who had Down’s Syndrome and died at 16, was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

  60. I absolutely adored this book and want to read it again. I love your books, Mary, and would be thrilled to be a winner.

  61. I used t read all kinds of books, but as I got older I found the Regency romances. I would lve t have been able to write but at schl my compositins were usually 1/2(half) a page. But i am adept in other areas ( quilting knitting art) so I am not too envious of all the talents other folks have

  62. I was a nurse for 47 years and while I was maybe not as well versed in diseases as some of my contemporaries I was the one who sat , held the hands and quietly listened to the fears of dying patients in those deep, dark hours of the night when family had gone home for needed rest. I have been a reader for 70 years when I discovered Paul Gallico between the pages of the Saturday Evening Post and my first book, The Snow Goose at the age of 7. Did being a reader, a nurse or having parents who were intelligent and set good examples help me hard to say. I have copies of all of your books and reread them often, thank-you. Jan

  63. I think that while people who empathize — who perhaps even enjoy empathizing — may be drawn to reading, reading does in fact encourage the development of empathy. No, let me qualify that. Reading good fiction or narrative nonfiction, in which the characters are realistic, complex, nuanced people with realistic, complex, nuanced feelings — that’s what develops empathy. You can find that kind of book at almost every reading level, even early chapter books, if they’re well written.

    Mary, your books definitely fall into that category, and it’s one of the things that puts you among my two or three favorite romance writers. I love that your villains aren’t irredeemable, and aren’t always even villains, really. (Con Huxtable leaps to mind.) I love that even your finest characters are flawed, and that you are so good at letting us into their minds and hearts and experiences. Thank you for writing romances that always feel like more than just a few hours escape to me (although they’re that, too, when I need an escape!) You are one of the authors who first proved to me that my stereotyped view of the romance genre was wrong, and turned me into an enthusiastic reader of that genre.

  64. Books have always been a necessity. Along with food, clothes, shelter, and love, my mother read to me every day. Reading came first. There is no doubt that reading has made me more compassionate to all characters within the book world, no matter how flawed. This compassion never spilled over into real life, however. I’ve always been judgmental, especially toward myself, and only recently became aware of this disconnect. Things have changed over the last few years and it’s a joy to live with an open heart instead of a closed one, but life taught me that, not books. I tend to think books can be a tool of compassion, if one applies lessons learned there to real life.

  65. I simply began reading as a child because there were lots of books around the house. Regarding empathy, unfortunately I am one of those people who is very effected by others’ moods. If there’s tension in the atmosphere, I immediately sense it and become uncomfortable. The reverse when I enter a “happy” room. I’d rather not be this way, it’s painful sometimes, but I suppose it does help with writing characters.

  66. My mother, who was days short of her of her hundreth birthday when she died this summer, was an avid reader all of her life. She was an excellent reader to others as well. For as long as I can remember I was read to,even after I could read very well myself. In fact one of the best family memories I have is of the four of us reading chapters of a book after supper together.
    My mother was also a wonderfully empathetic person. When I was small and would come home with some grievence against a playmate she always lead me through the incident and help me to see all the points of view involved. There is a certain degree of self knowledge that comes with understanding others.
    I love romance novels if they are character driven and move beyond artificial “meet cute” and sex. I also love to dip into another time better than anything else ( honestly I could really spend a week or so in a manor house or castle with lovely feminine clothes) and so your novels have been on my keeper list for a long time. You really have characters who are humanly relatelable. It makes it so easy to shift into the story and get lost. Bravo!

  67. I see the same thing as you, but my sense is it’s a learned skill through reading. Nurture more than nature, so to say…

    My experience is readers also can use this skill to not take things so personally. The ability to imagine why a person might have done what they did or said what they said helps us not to assume every slight is about us. I feel sorry for my friends who go through life constantly assuming someone is scheming to hurt their feelings.

    Very interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  68. I don’t worry about the egg or chicken order either. Except in the morning; then absolutely the egg comes before the chicken! The chicken can come for lunch or dinner. :>)

  69. I celebrate the day you release a book like a holiday!! They are gifts to me and my imagination! Can’t wait to read your newest release!!

  70. Well I would say there are two things that have developed my empathy for other people. The first was all the travel I did as a child. My father was in the Air Force and we usually moved every two to three years. The second would be reading. If the characters are not well developed I have a hard time reading the book. I love your books because all your characters come to life, even the ones that play a small part in the development of the story.

  71. I’ve heard this very thing from another author I admire, Kristi Gold. She was the first author I knew to share with me how it made her feel when she heard from her fans, whether or not it was positive. She too, wanted to make sure she “got it right.” I work very hard to achieve this in the stories I write. I’ve heard that I’ve done well, from some, and not from others. But I learn with each comment or feedback I receive. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  72. For your first question: I think the egg came first. Something not-quite-chicken laid eggs that were chickens. They bred and here we are.
    For your deeper question: A good writer gives me characters with whom I can find points of empathy. I suppose I am am empathetic as the next person, but good writers give me further insight into the whys and hows of their characters emotions and opinions. Usually they are ones that don’t completely shatter my own, but don’t always have to be totally congruent, either. Write, Mary, Write!

  73. Thank you for such a thought provoking post. I think that readers have a chance to see more points of view on a subject because they can go back and reread a work, perhaps from a different perspective each time, influenced by where they are in life at that time. My ideas on who the shrew was in The Taming of The Shrew certainly have changed since I first read it as an unmarried teen. However, despite exposure to great books, some people who read will never “grok” others, and usually do not choose books as a release.

  74. I became a reader because my parents read to me until I got the knack of doing it myself, around age 4. I was too young to question why, I just loved the stories and finding things out. 62 years later it is still my passion. I love to read because I love to read. How sad and thin my life would be without all the places I’ve been and the people I have met in books. Disabled since birth, I haven’t been able to get everywhere I want except by reading. My favorite books are the ones that take me elsewhere and elsewhen, whether or not those places exist outside the pages. Wandering around in other people’s heads enhances the time I spend wandering around inside my own. I doubt this answers your question, but it does tell you a bit about why I enjoy your books ๐Ÿ™‚

  75. I think that while we may have a more natural tendency towards empathy as readers, it becomes more developed by the practice of it in our reading. If all I read were math books without human interaction in characters, I would not develop more of a wide array of situations and backstory cataloging that allows me to realize that there are so many sides to the story being told. The development of empathy can be greatly impacted by reading from different views and even within the same book, the same situation being told by multiple sides (why did the ‘villain’ have to steal that item that cause situation A B and C to cascade into the events that they did?). Without that additional resource that fiction or other human interaction books allow us, we may never get a deeper understanding of what may be happening in another’s life or even the desire to discover what causes them to behave the way they are.

    As far as the egg vs the chicken, the Chicken is first because it is in the egg…much as the empathy is within the reader; they simply aren’t developed enough to be seen yet.

  76. I truly appreciate your willingness to re release books so that we may enjoy all of your creations without being price robbed!! And thanks for taking us readers to a great time and place!

  77. I love to read. I get a “visual” of what I think the characters look like. It’s like watching a movie to me, except I’m the creative director and the excellent author is the script writer, producer, etc.. That’s how I determine if a book is “good”… if I can engage with the characters enough to visualize them and their surroundings. That’s why I’m not such a big fan of print to big screen. The movies are never as good as my imagination:)

  78. I’d love to win a copy of A Christmas Promise. I can empathize with characters, no problem, some better than others, but I especially like characters that are well rounded with qualities that might be considered good and bad both.

  79. CHRISTMAS PROMISE has long been a favorite of mine–one I reread every year. I would love to replace my well worn copy with an autographed new one. Thank you Mary for all your wonderful books.


  80. It’s such an interesting question, but I agree the answer is not clear cut. Some readers may be/are more empathetic and some probably are no more empathetic for reading and the reverse is true. I can only answer for myself that reading as an experience has broadened my perspectives, but I’d like to think I am empathetic but know that I am only human. I do enjoy a variety of genres but romance and especially historical romance is my favorite because I love love stories. Love at the heart of any story to me is worthwhile to read. Readers identify with flawed characters because they are more real thus more relatable and become special to readers. I’d love a copy of The Christmas Promise since I have not had the pleasure to read it yet and love the beautiful new cover.

  81. I believe that empathy is learned. Just like hate, we learn from our parents, teachers and other adult influences in our life. I was raised by a biased and bigoted mother, who hated anyone who was not a white, Anglo-Saxon, American. I saw what that hate did to her, and that influenced me to meet everyone as a friend and have a kind word for anyone I see. This has opened my eyes to how many wonderful people there are in this world, and how to see possibilities in books. I am grateful I learned from my mother’s mistakes.

  82. I could be wrong, but as I tell my husband it’s pretty rare, but I don’t believe empathetic people are readers. Maybe it’s just my understanding or belief of what empathetic means. I think a person with no empathy is mostly self-centered and has no need to put any effort into another person. They don’t care about others feelings, thoughts, wishes, anything. In that case, why bother reading a book about unknown people and their problems?

    I can’t see reading a book and having no feelings for the characters living there. Reading is my getaway from the hectic day to day trials of my life, knowing at the end of the story is a happily ever after for the people there. I know because I ALWAYS peek at the end to make sure everything comes out ok. (Drives my daughter crazy, but I have to know!)

  83. Thank you so much for letting us have a chance at another 1 of your signed books. Your signature make a great book even better.

  84. Wonderful questions, Mary, but I think the empathy/reading question has as many variations as there are readers. One of my oldest friends (since the 6th grade!) is, unfortunately, not an empathetic person, and her choice of books often reflects her world view. So the answer to this question may to a great extent depend upon the readers’ choice of books.

    I believe that writers, like you, who do empathize greatly and who are able to get deeply into another’s psyche are old souls who are in touch with their inner male/female (depending on the gender of the author).

    And finally, I just finished Follett’s Fall of Giants, and something that struck me vividly was that compared to so many romance novels I’ve read, his characters were not drawn in stark black or white, but in shades of gray. There are very few romance authors who can write characterizations as realistically as you do.

  85. Since I can’t remember even being alive without constantly reading books, I think one of the primary things needed is willing suspension of disbelief. If you are willing to go where the author takes you, who knows what you may learn OR at least come to think about perhaps in a different way. Whether you always agree or not with the author or the book is not the point; being open to what you haven’t considered before is.

    As for your question, I think there are many, many readers who are more empathetic, but sadly at the same time there can be readers who are agenda driven who look for only what they already choose to believe–just like life.

  86. I think that most people can imagine what goes on in other peoples’ heads if they try, but too few do. One of the things I love best about your books is your realistic characters and realistic dialog. It is really refreshing to know that the characters have similar doubts and concerns as everyone. I like the depth of the characters and the feeling that I really know them by the end of the book. Thanks for writing such wonderful books!

  87. I think empathy is something we are born with but needs to be nurtured and reading is definitely one way to nurture it. The ability to step into someones shoes (and mind) is a wonderful gift especially for a writer. Thank-you for all your insights! And for your giveaways ๐Ÿ˜‰ Cheers.

  88. This started out interesting with your thoughtful comments. It has gotten more so with your readers’ comments. I think some people start out being empathetic within the family group. Later, they learn more of the larger world and become more empathetic. Reading thoughtful books can make one more aware of others and their plights.

  89. Interesting Questions. One more to add, what came first, Reading or Writing? Is there any writer who is not an avid reader??
    When one wants to cross the borders, feel unknown emotions, encounter new situations, the easiest thing to do is open a book. Literature opens our eyes to a new world. It could be a fantasy or the contemporary world or past history. It widens our arena and slowly forces us to understand and accept that we cannot be judgmental. Every action taken might have some justification.
    With every character, a writer opens our eyes to a new persona. It could be someone we relate to or we met and forgot or completely new to us. The only way to get acquainted with every character is to live with the characters. An avid reader cannot admire a character unless he/she gets connected with the character. And to be able to do that, every character should have some basis to reality. Even in fiction or fantasy, the roles are to have some human emotions to which any person would connect. Unless that connection is established, A Writerโ€™s Creation would not be wholly appreciated. So I completely agree with your view that writers almost have a duty to show who their characters are. In order to appreciate the journey with every character in a book an avid reader cannot afford to be judgmental.
    To decide what is right and what is wrong in every scenario would be a tough decision. Sometimes, a decision would be completely right if we look it from the takerโ€™s point of view and totally foolish from some otherโ€™s point of view. Yet, we can question the decision but not the person. We can understand the person, but not change the situation. To learn this hardcore truth from a book is more advisable than learning it from real life. An avid reader would surely know this, and unless one can appreciate that being different is not always wrong, one cannot become an avid Reader. They can become readers, but not avid readers.
    PS: I Like your blog and articles. Waiting eagerly for your upcoming book.

  90. Another really interesting blog…and the other readers responses are interesting also. I enjoy reading them all.

    I’ve often wondered myself why some people have more empathy than others. I really don’t know if it is something you are born with or something you acquire. I have known siblings who were raised in the same house, with the same parents and same set of values but who have varying degrees of empathy. I don’t mean to imply that one is any better than the other – I don’t believe that – but I do believe that empathy is a gift that will enhance your perception of the world. And it is certainly a gift that you have.

    You have a real insight into human nature and the characters you develop show that. From the first of your books that I read (SIMPLY LOVE) I have found myself caring about the characters long after I have finished the book. And when I see these characters again in another story, it’s like meeting an old friend.

    The Survivor Series is the first of your book series that I have read as they were being written and I find myself frustrated that I have to wait so long for the next one to be released. July of 2014??? Boohoo!!

    Oh, and that chicken and egg thing. I’m with your reader who says that bacon is the answer to everything.

  91. Reading though this post has made me think of things that I hadn’t considered before. I was read to as a babe and have been an avid reader ever since I was first taken by my father at the age of 5 to the library – a cozy little cottage in a local park. Escaping into other worlds and times is what I enjoy about reading. Sometimes I feel as if I could have lived very happily in England anytime from the 1750’s – 1890’s. I’ve learned so much about people and history through books – historical fiction is my absolute favorite genre, and historical romance makes a book even better. So I hadn’t really considered why I read other than for enjoyment and knowledge.

    Interesting, believeable characters are what make a book worth reading, tied to realistic, descriptive settings. I love how your characters are always believeable and become empathetic as their struggles are revealed. The ones mentioned here are great examples – Sydnam and Con. I was most amazed when Con’s story was finally revealed. Thank you for the wonderful insight you present in your books. There are some very famous writers (new releases go straight to the best seller lists) that I have read and found their characters unbelieveable, especially in dialogue. Needless to say, I have stayed away from their other books.

    Reading and empathy? Don’t think I can answer that one. I know that the books I enjoy most are the ones that I connect to emotionally. I have taught 5th grade Language Arts for 23 years – most of that time in a teaming situation where I have two LA sections. For the past 15 years I have read Number the Stars to my class (it fits so well with our curriculum and has so many lessons/themes to explore), and even after 30 readings I still get choked up in three places (go figure!), so I always have to warn my students as I approach these points. I keep thinking the day will come when I won’t tear up, because after all, I know the story backwards and forwards. Maybe this will be the year, but I doubt it.

  92. In my experience people who read are more open minded than the nonreaders. Is it beause readers are more intelligent or maybe more curious ? Then again there are evil people, I guess, who read up a storm before commiting a crime.

  93. A recent study theorized that reading made people more empathetic. The idea was that reading helps the reader practice those thoughts. But your idea is excellent– it could be more empathetic people are readers.

  94. I’ve wondered this same question. I find that what I enjoy most in the books I’ve really savored is the exploration of emotional depths, many that I haven’t personally experienced. It can be painful to experience them with the characters, but it’s a wonderful reminder that all of us are, in fact, that complicated. It keeps me from seeing anyone else as one- or two-dimensional.

    Thanks for all the wonderful reading!

  95. I cannot believe this! I just finished reading the Christmas Promise. It made me laugh and cry! I just came on your website to pick another book and I read the opportunity of maybe receiving some free books.
    I loved the story and the characters! Randolph and Eleanor and the joy of all characters of a family. And we do have them in ALL families. Their love comes to us in good times and hard times, and we always appreciate their goodness. I hope you and yours enjoy this season and feel the joy your books bring. thank you sooo much. Brenda

  96. Good questions about empathy but I can only speak for myself and say reading has taken me away from some very self-centered thinking at times. I have actually asked myself if some of my favorite characters would want to be friends with me.

  97. Hi Mary!

    I hope you had a great Thanksgiving with your family!

    I loved your post and while Historical Romance is my favorite genre I love to read mysteries as well but not the contemporary ones but instead “historical” mysteries! My favorite are the Brother Cadfael’s mysteries by Ellis Peters.(which is the pen name of Edith Mary Pargeter) who ws born in 1913, the same year as my Dad! He actually introduced me to her books when I was a teenager and I fell in love with them.

    My husband has also read all of the series after I “tricked” him into reading one of the stories by mentioning that before becoming a “Brother” Cadfael was a Knights Templar (my husband is a member of our local masonic lodge as was my father before him but he’s also a “Knights Templar” as well! Needless to say even though he had never read mysteries before (he loves history books and historical fiction) he has read the entire “Cadfael” series as well. He once told me that they should come with a warning “Beware – Read one and you’ll have to read them all!

    I think even if someone has a “preferred” genre like I do with historical romance they should still venture out and enjoy other genres as well. They might be surprised at how much some of the currently popular genres actually can have the same theme as my beloved historical romance!

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