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read_csv implies interpretation and perhaps a format (ie a csv table), read_file does not (not in the name at least).
.. and also not in the manual page, as it simply says:
"Read a file into a string."
"" or character() seems like the obvious result of reading an empty file, and the error reserved from when the file does not exist or otherwise cannot be read.
In the bigger scheme of things, something in the Rniverse should be able to read a file into a string. This is a natural thing to do, all the other cool scripting languages on the block have this. readr::read_file seems like the perfect fit, I (from my point of view) see no reason why its other friends in the readr package should impose roles on it.