Charlotte’s Web was the first book I can remember that really moved me. From the moment Fern saved that little runt, Wilbur, I loved him. My tiny eight-year-old heart swelled over his friendship with the spider Charlotte and it was broken by her death—and Wilbur’s loss of his best friend.
Then there was Ponyboy in The Outsiders, Piggy in Lord of the Flies, Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, whose stories broke my heart. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester drove me crazy with their chaste love; I both admired and loathed Scarlett O’Hara, and Holly Golightly felt like that friend who always gets you into trouble but she’s just so exciting you can’t resist.
Whether it be compassion, love, pity, admiration, infatuation, or fear; and no matter how different their lives may be from mine, all those characters and so many others have allowed me to look at the world from the inside out through their eyes.
So intuitively, it didn’t really surprise me back in 2013 when a study came out with the finding that reading literary fiction improves a person’s ability to understand other people’s emotions. In other words, those who read literary fiction are more empathetic.