Reading fiction: it’s your social obligation

This book changed my life, and that’s a fact © Sciengist

This book changed my life, and that’s a fact © Sciengist


I can barely contain myself.

My excitement is almost palpable.

Nineteen years ago, I was a mere whipper-snapper (technical term for a presumptuous youth), with a love of books but rebellious to obligatory reading.

So when I was told I would read To Kill a Mockingbird for Year 10 English class, I set out on a mission to hate the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee1

Little did I know it would change my life.

And as you can see by the image of my own personal copy of the book - I have since read it multiple times!

The story is told from the perspective of six year old Maycomb resident, Scout.

Scout is a self-assured, fiercely independent girl with a strong yet innocent sense of social justice.

Perhaps, 19 years ago, I could identify with these attributes of Scout's character and immediately found myself faced with a dilemma in my own rebellion.

How could I not love the book?


Deep-reading enables greater empathy and an experience of multiple perspectives

After immersing yourself in a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, you are taken on a veritable affair, experiencing life through the eyes of your narrator and/or characters.

Research conducted in 2006revealed that such an experience provided by reading fiction, did in fact have a positive association with increased empathy and theory of mind. A further study in 2009aimed at replicating these results, further supported the positive influence of reading on empathy, social-ability and social support.

So how did To Kill a Mockingbird change my life?

For those who are yet to read it (I say yet, because you will read it), I shall avoid too much detail:

The events that take place in To Kill a Mockingbird are, still for today's society, incredibly poignant. As is the personal journey Scout travels.

And if deep-reading increases empathy, social-ability and support, Harper Lee provided an incredibly powerful worm to invade the psyche and influence the sociality of all who read her literary masterpiece.

If that isn't powerful enough, the character Scout was known in the Maycomb County for her impressive literary skills, aided by her father, Atticus, exposing her to newspapers and books from a very early age.

Exposure to narrative media may influence children’s development of theory-of-mind

A study in 2010 involving pre-school children (4 - 6 years), revealed that exposure to narrative media may increase their social awareness and ability. Which would support Scout's strong sense of social justice and self-assured defiance. Harper Lee, you never cease to astound me.

If I was already identifying with Scout, and if reading increases empathy and theory of mind, how could the socially-poignant journey of To Kill a Mockingbird not change my life?

Harper Lee's second novel officially released on 14th July, 2015 (Image:

Harper Lee's second novel will be officially released on 14th July, 2015 (Image:


Today, I wait in intense anticipation for the official release of Harper Lee's second book, Go Set a Watchman, to be released on the 14th July, 2015: 55 years after her undeniable classic.

Those who have already managed a sneak-peak at the first chapter, assure us that we should be in for a treat.

Although written from the perspective of adult Jean-Louise, she apparently maintains the character we fell in love with (Scout), despite the years ageing her.

The years have aged me too, since I first read To Kill a Mockingbird.

Perhaps I may be reunited with an old friend, with increased empathy: us both a little more comfortable with our eccentricities, and with strong theory-of-mind?

I have had two copies of Go Set a Watchman on pre-order for months and if Amazon does not deliver them to my letterbox soon, I may just spontaneously combust!

1After reading the book, initially against my will, it may be interesting to note that I went on to achieve Top of Class for English. Changed my life? At least changed my attitude. And the research has suggested how 2, 3

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