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Saturday, June 22
The Indiana Daily Student

arts books

COLUMN: Reading made me feel more empathetic


I recently discovered that books are marvelous things, and it has taken me until my twentieth year of life to understand this.  

My school years have been filled with books; however, reading never stuck as a habit outside of my classes. When reading books for class, we were always taught to annotate to prepare for Socratic seminars and comprehension quizzes. While I found studying classic literature to be compelling, reading books still felt like an assignment, even outside of school.  

The issue is that I love to learn, and books are one of the best tools for learning. This is why one day this summer, I surrendered to my preconceived notions about leisure reading and let myself enjoy a good book.  

I chose to read the book “28 Summers” by Elin Hilderbrand, simply because it had been sitting on my bookshelf since my mom had read it two summers before. I sat down to read it one afternoon, thinking it would be another book added to the unfinished pile on my nightstand.  

Three days later, I had read it cover to cover. A part of me even felt kind of dejected about reaching the end of the story. 

For those three days, my time with “28 Summers” was spent focusing only on what I was reading. The storyline engrossed me. It was refreshing to feel captivated by something outside of myself, as selfish as that sounds. 

It sounds selfish because it does have to do with selfishness. I believe that reading this book reminded me that it is possible to take a break from fixating on my own life.  While reading, I forgot about whatever I was concerned with for the time being, and instead directed all my attention to the plot of the story. When I finished reading, I was then able to be involved in my own life once again.  

Not only that, but I felt a deep sense of empathy for the characters.  

In “28 Summers,” I witnessed multiple characters react differently to situations throughout their lives. The story follows two people that cheat on their partners over a span of 28 years. Initially, this seemed like a story in which I would forever despise both characters for behaving in this way. To my surprise, as the story progressed and the book investigated each of their lives, I developed more empathy towards the characters. While I still disapproved of their scandal, it gave insight into their intentions.  

This made me think about assumptions surrounding various circumstances in my life and it reminded me of how many sides exist in each one of these circumstances. There is no way for me to have an omniscient perspective of everyone, but it is important to keep this idea in mind. 

In some ways, I related closely to the characters in “28 Summers.” In other ways, I was learning about how certain unfamiliar situations affect people. In both cases, the book gave an opportunity to study the thoughts of others and try to understand the motive behind their behaviors. 

Reading fiction presents a unique opportunity to observe the thought patterns of multiple characters from an all-knowing perspective. This can give us the ability to see issues from multiple sides, sometimes making difficult issues easier to digest.  

Non-fiction is great for fact-based learning, but fiction can enlighten readers on social and emotional situations.

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