Reading literature can teach us empathy, an important trait

Ceilidh Adams
Opinion Editor

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10 P.M. and I am in my bed, wrapped up tight in a blanket, reading, while the soft spring breeze ignites a small rustle in my sheets, but I am unaware, because I am so entranced.

In my mind, I am in Amsterdam, watching Augustus Waters tell Hazel Grace that his cancer has come back and he loves her, my god he loves her but he is so sick and my heart breaks. Right then and there, it breaks and though up until that moment I never knew what love felt like I could get a beautiful glimpse at it in this beautiful book.

“It’s hard to explain”.

This is a phrase we say all the time, but it is especially one that is important in moments of trying to explain something to someone when you want them to empathize with you. You might not know exactly how to explain what you are feeling, but they can connect with you, and understand what you are going through, and when that happens, you feel safe. You don’t feel alone in your pain anymore.

Empathy is really a trait that could save the world. This is one marvelous trait that books provide for us as readers: you might not know exactly what love feels like, but when Augustus Waters flashes a glorious smile at Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars, and tells her that he is not going anywhere, and tells her not only that it would be good but that it would be a privilege to have his heart broken by her, you feel that.

You feel it in your soul. These feelings are not only just limited to sadness or love, though. Any emotion or trial that the character goes through, if you are reading a good book, you can connect with. This is the power of a good book, of words that bring worlds and characters alive.

Great books allow us this wonderful glimpse into worlds that are not our own, into people’s lives and emotions. They allow us to feel powerful emotions, from sadness to empathy to happiness to grief.

So okay, books are awesome. They allow us to experience other worlds, and experience powerful emotions. Everyone knows that. Why is this so important? I’ll tell you why: because it is one of the answers to that question in English class that I’m sure if you haven’t asked, you have at least thought: why do I even have to learn about this?

If we were all just a little more empathetic towards one another, the world would be a better place. Even if you have never experienced a powerful emotion like love, it allows you this fabulous taste of this. Similarly, if you have never had an experience, like, let’s say, having a certain disability, or losing a loved one to a terrible disease, books allow us glimpses into these experiences that we would have never experienced otherwise.

This allows us to empathize with others, because if you have never experienced something, but if you have read about a certain character in a book that was going through, let’s say your friend who is having a hard time, you can empathize more with your friend, and help him/her out more.

Reading The Great Gatsby, we can experience this deep, deep sense of hope that seeps into our bones. Reading Harry Potter, we can experience magic and bravery and grief and courage. Reading The Fault in Our Stars (one of my many favorites), we can taste what it feels like to fall so hard into love.

The next time you snuggle up and read that amazing book, whatever genre it may be, you can sleep better at night knowing that reading will make you a more empathetic person.

“There is no friend as loyal as a book”- Ernest Hemmingway

Ceilidh Adams is the Opinion Editor for The Comment. Email her at


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