Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Tracing the Origins of Empathy for the Natural World

In a new essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Sims recalls the books that first led him to nature

January 30, 2012 When Michael Sims walked into a used bookstore in his hometown of Crossville, he discovered a set of children’s encyclopedias from the 1950s and ’60s—books which first spoke to him in the hybrid language of knowledge, curiosity, and wonder—that made him want to be a writer:

I learned empathy for other living creatures by going outdoors with a field guide to mammals in one hand and a copy of Robert Lawson’s novel Rabbit Hill in the other. One told me about real rabbits, while the other suggested that rabbits want the same things we want—to sleep in a safe place, to eat dinner in peace. Reading such books felt like chatting at the grocery store with people my mother knew. The books introduced the animals to me: These are your neighbors; now you can be friends. My missionary Baptist upbringing did not encourage me to feel at one with nature. These books did. Empathy is an act of imagination.

Read the rest of this lovely essay and nature and memory and a lifelong love of books in The Chronicle of Higher Education.