Does Relatability Affect Your Enjoyment of a Book?

Lets Talk
My friend Megan and I were talking a few weeks ago about music and The Weeknd came up. I love his music, his voice, his CD’s so I’ve been listening to a lot of him over the past 2 months especially since his new CD came out. Megan mentioned that she didn’t really like his music because she couldn’t relate to it at all and it got me thinking. If you’ve never heard any of his songs, let me just tell you he sings a lot about drugs, sex, and fame. I’ve never done drugs and my only claim to ‘fame’ is one time I came out in the newspaper as a kid because I fell asleep on a balloon while my parents Christmas shopped the day before Christmas at the mall. ‘Sidewalks’ didn’t save my life, who am I kidding, my mom would never even let me play outside unless it was in our fenced in backyard and my dad was keeping an eye on me. And even then I was never much of an outdoor kind of kid (I preferred reading). I don’t have anybody ‘Six Feet Under trynna get that fucking paper’…in all honestly, I don’t even know what the fuck that means!  So no, I can’t relate to his music at all, but I still love it and I sing my heart out to it almost all day.

When it comes to books and relatability, it’s a little bit different. For the most part, a lot of things don’t really bother me in books. I can handle drugs, drinking, partying, cheating (to a certain extent) even though I don’t do any of that in real life.  But when it comes to addictions, I just can’t handle it. I don’t have any addictions (unless Pinterest counts) and I don’t know anybody that does, so it’s not like it’s a touchy subject for me, but I just can’t stand books with characters that are addicted to drugs, drink, sex or a self-destructive behavior. (One of the series I didn’t like Addicted To You)

As much as I love being able to relate to a character, there are times when that puts me off too. When Obsidian first came out, I (and most book bloggers) were amazed that there was actually a book character that not only loved to read but also blogged about books. That was a big reason I liked the book, but somewhere along books 2 and 3, that same thing ended up getting on my nerves. I was like ‘ok, you love books, you blog about books, we get it!’  I feel like since then, the ‘book lover’ MC has become more and more common and I always find myself rolling my eyes at it.  I love being able to find book characters that are similar to me in traits or attitude, except for those times when what we have in common are bad traits…

I guess for me, I don’t really mind if I can relate to a character or situation in a book. In some situations, being able to relate to a book sure can be an added bonus, but most of the time, as long as I enjoy the book I don’t really care. I guess part of the reason that I love kick ass girls in books so much is because I wish I could be like that in real life. Even though I was more of a Lissa Dragomir, I desperately wish I could be like Rose Hathaway instead.  That may be part of the reason I kind of hate Lissa actually… Most of the time, some of my favorite books and characters are the ones that are the complete opposite of me and that I can’t relate to at all!

What about you? Do you prefer books/characters that you can relate to? Or does not being able to relate to them affect your ability to connect/enjoy the book?  Do you like characters that are similar to you or the opposite of you? Let me know in the comments!

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Nereyda is a 31 year-old mother of two girls with addiction to Friends, fashion, books, Pinterest, Netflix, the color black and a little bit of everything else. Also, the world's worst texter...

Latest posts by Nereyda (see all)

  • I think I’m a lot like you, in this regard. If I can relate to a character, then that’s cool, and I’m all for it. But I think it’s more often that I’ll come across characters and situations that I CANNOT relate to. Like addictions, as you’ve stated, or surprise pregnancy situations (I really don’t like surprise pregnancies in stories, and I think you’re the same way, if I remember correctly?). If every and any character were like me, then they would be hella boring, because literally all I do is eat breathe and (not) sleep academics. Even when I graduate and (hopefully) get a job and start working… I’m an innately boring person. So for me, I’m not sure relatability in terms of lifestyle is super important, because again, I’m hella boring. But then again, I do love seeing the straight-laced snippy “boring” heroines in romance novels, because those ladies are me. 😀 (Or me a few years from now.) I don’t know if what I said here makes sense so don’t mind me!

    Great post, Nereyda. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

  • I guess I think of relatability slightly differently from you, Nereyda. I think of a character I can relate to as a character that seems like a real person to me. I don’t have to have much in common with a character to relate to them, but they do need to have traits that make them human. Does that even make sense at all? But, yes, the characters have to be relatable to me (per my own definitions) to add to my enjoyment. If characters seem like card-board mannequins, I don’t enjoy reading about them – because they can’t exist for real.

    I’m the same way when it comes to music – the lyrics don’t have to be about things I have lived through, but I prefer lyrics that have meaning (the six feet under and the paper sounds really weird!! but it also made me want to check out The Weeknd’s music 🙂

    Great topic!

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    • Michelle

      This is exactly what I was thinking as well! I need to be able to relate to the characters as people, but they don’t have to be like me at all.

      • 🙂 I think I would be bored if all the characters were like me, and I also wouldn’t be able to find that many books to read, as I’m not very exciting 🙂

  • Rummanah Aasi

    Good question. I think it’s the author job to make his/her characters have universal appeal if they want the book to be successful and it’s up to the reader to find that appeal in whatever way they can- character’s hobby, personality, etc. I try to push myself and read books where I have no relate-ability with the characters or the world to just become more empathetic.

  • I find it so fascinating that every reader likes different things. I definitely love books where I can relate to the main character. I don’t mean that it has to be the same exact situation, but that I can relate their experiences and feelings to my own. It somehow let’s me connect to the character on a deeper level.

    For example, I think that Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (Have you read that?) is such a fan favorite because everyone romance reader can relate to the main character, Penelope. There was something so special about her. She was just so normal . . . but on top of that, even though she was over looked, she used that to her advantage, and I think that made readers hopeful for their own situations. I don’t know if this makes any sense to you. If you haven’t read the book, it might not. You should totally read that book, though!

    But, once in a while, I will come across a character who’s experiences hit so close to home, that it makes me uncomfortable. Cath from Fangirl was like that for me. It was like I was seeing myself in college again, but seeing how I should have done things differently. I do still love that book to pieces, but how much I related to Cath made it difficult for me to read the book.

  • Great discussion to talk about here.

    For myself, I can enjoy whatever story even if I can’t fully relate with a character. But being able to relate with a character can be relative. For example I can relate with the shy wallflower, or the demon ass kicker. Its more about their personality, and I think if the author writes a character well enough, then I can fall for any character even if I have a hard time relating to them. I do tend to like the more shy or reserved heroines because I used to be super shy when I was young and I can relate with it and understand it than some others can. But I also love the independent and strong willed personalities as well. For me as long as the character feel human and real…that is all I really need. I don’t put much on mistakes made for characters, because I like that. It makes them feel so much more human. I do prefer being able to connect with a character with depth rather than what is just on the surface.

  • I don’t feel the need for books to be relatable. If I don’t relate to a character I won’t dislike the book but sometimes it can make me enjoy a book more. I don’t know, sometimes, if written well, a character who loves books can actually really make me like the book. This happened for me in Broken Wheel Recommends. But then, I can also read books which feature things like addiction and love that even though it’s something I know nothing about. It’s one of those things which when done well you can find yourself liking a book that bit more because you’ve found some kind of connection with it, but if there was nothing relatable there I would never pick up on the fact. It’s strange, though. We all have our own things with books. I actually sometimes like characters to be completely unrelatable because I can then just escape into the story.

  • When I think about relatability I guess I just want to be able to kind of put myself in their position and understand where they are coming from. I do love seeing actual pieces of me in characters though. It is fun but not necessary for me to like a book at all. As far as music I am pretty sure I relate to nothing I actually listen to. I just like how it sounds 🙂

  • Really interesting topic! As I’m growing older (sobs) and moving further and further away from the literal YA audience, I struggle with the relatibility part when it comes to YA characters. Books that I used to love would probably not work for me anymore because I find them frustrating. BUT let’s face, if I’m going to look for a character who is exactly like me in any genre, I’m never going to find one. To me what makes a character relatable is how they are written. A character could have grown up in a harem surrounded by drugs, and I could relate to them if the author writes the experience well. So really I guess it all depends on the author. Some authors do it well, and some just don’t. I like what you said about wanting to be like certain characters. I think that’s me a lot of times. There are characters that I just admire even though I have nothing in common with them and would not mind wanting to be like.

  • My mouth just dropped open. You fell asleep on a balloon?!!! I wonder how your parents didn’t notice you weren’t with them LOL
    OMG I roll my eyes too at the fact that lately every character loves books and read! I kind of want to read about a character who loves doing something else, or heck, even hates books or doesn’t like to read!
    Sometimes I do like to relate to a character, but not too much, you know what I mean? And I do love characters that are opposite of me! I love reading of total badass girls and I’m nowhere near a badass girl LOL.
    This is a great topic, Nereyda!!
    Genesis @ Latte Nights Reviews

  • Braine Supie

    Relatability helps in a way where it’s easy for me to slip into the character. I have a high tolerance for stuff too like the ones you mentioned. What I can’t stand is when the author is a bigot or racist or something along those lines and tries to justify it with the story. I’m all for anti-heroes but give them remorse or at least call them out!

  • Michelle

    This is a such a GREAT topic for discussion! I’ve never really thought all that much about it before. I really enjoy books where I can strongly relate to the main character, but I also really love a lot of books where I can’t relate at all. And especially since I primarily read fantasy, a LOT of settings don’t ALLOW for characters to have similar interests to me. I guess I like being able to UNDERSTAND the characters more than I seek to relate to them, and that’s ALL about the writing itself, rather than just the decisions made regarding the character’s preferences. I may know NOTHING about the kinds of things my character likes and does, but I expect that by the end of the book, I can have an appreciation for WHY they like and do those things, you know?

  • Charlie Anderson

    After my family had a great divide (resulting in my grandfather being arrested on accusations – bailed out the following morning by my lawman uncle – and guess who was the “star” witness to the prosecution’s case and was only 10…yup, me – didn’t take long to drop the witch trail of a case) my “twin” cousin who is only four months older than me was no longer in my life. I had no desire to go outside and play, so I stayed inside and read and read and read. I escaped my life through books. The one big thing I know right off I couldn’t read would be crimes against children. While many people do not like to read about suicide or after-effects of suicide, it does not bother me. In fact, it is like a therapy. I have talked many, many times on my blog about my cousin Ricky who committed suicide in 2011 and who Looking for Alaska was a book I had to have by my side after.

  • Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm. I think it depends. In comparison to your examples of addiction and cheating, I think if I read a book that had some sort of abuse, I would probably not do so well. But on the other hand, I could totally understand getting tired of characters that are really close to me in personality. Would I enjoy reading about someone who’s JUST like me? No I would probably be super annoyed and pissed at their actions LOL. (“STOP READING BOOKS. STOP PLAYING VIDEO GAMES. YOU’RE WASTING TIME THE WORLD IS GOING TO END” lol)

  • I love coming across a character that I can feel a certain kinship with. Especially the shy introverted MC that comes out of her shell. Like Emily in Since You’ve Been Gone. But I also love really kick ass completely unrelatable characters (like Rose and Katniss). Things like drugs and abuse don’t really bother me. Cheating does in most cases though. I think that’s probably just a personal preference. So no, I don’t think I have to relate to a character or their situation to enjoy a book!

  • It’s always fun to have stuff in common with characters in books, especially characters that I really like but I don’t think I need to relate to the characters in order to enjoy the books. A lot of times, I can connect to a character that is nothing like me by shared experiences. I love connecting with characters through their personal journeys and it doesn’t matter if I can share the experience or not, if a character or story is well written, I’ll love the hell out of it.

    Great post, Nereyda.

  • It’s awesome when I have stuff in common with characters in a book. I love being able to relate to them. But if I don’t completely relate to them, that won’t take away my enjoyment of the book if I still connect to them in some other way.

  • Hmm, I really do not think I have a preference. Sure it feels fun to read something where you are all ha, I can relate. But everything else works too

  • I am totally the same way when it comes to music vs. books. I can never relate to LOTS of artists I listen to, but the beat of them music and their voices are the best part. For reading it’s definitely different. I like being able to relate to what the character is going through, but it’s not a dealbreaker. My favorite books as an actual YA were about rich teens, a la Gossip Girl. Totally couldn’t relate, but that’s kind of cool because it gives you insight into the way other people live. On a less materialstic note too, the same could be said for diverse books. I can’t just read books that I can relate to because I’d literally be reading about all-white high schools in small farm towns. That shit gets boring fast. It’s better to read about people who aren’t like you, but maybe share some feelings/experiences. Most people know what hearbreak is like, or having a crush, or dealing with friend problems. Sooo long-winded comment short.. I think I like a mix of both, totally depending on my mood hahaha.

  • You know sometimes it is nice to relate to a character, but other times I don’t mind the character being totally opposite. It just depends on the book.

  • I don’t think I have a preference. Thinking about my favorite books and characters, some of them I love because I relate, others I love even though I don’t relate at all. As long as they’re developed and either someone I can feel for or someone interesting to read about, I’ll probably like reading about them! But it is still fun when you find a character you really relate to 🙂

  • LOL yes, I too love the Weeknd but I don’t exactly relate to all of his music! Honestly, what I like about his lyrics is the same thing that makes me relate to a character in a book: he tells a good, convincing story. Sure, relatability can be really nice sometimes, and definitely cathartic if you’re reading a contemporary or something similar. But I also really like stepping outside myself and reading about a character that I just could not relate to at all, like MCs who are as cold as ice and rarely get flustered (sadly I am highly flusterable, hahaha).

    • Thank you, Danya! You
      beautifully articulated my thoughts on this matter. I relate to the character
      if “he tells a good, convincing story”.

  • I think… I used to think I need need to relate to a character, but now, I don’t think I do. It matters, I have realized, if the author can make you CONNECT to the character- not in terms of relatability but more in just general human emotions. Like even if I have zero things in common with a character, I can feel for them just as strongly as if someone wrote a book about my actual life, you know? Ultimately, I think it is just about making us connect to characters- even if we have nothing to relate to- that makes a character work for me in a book. This was really thought provoking!