Can You Relate?

article posted Sep 27, 22:18

In recent years one of the recurring themes in literary conversations that has tended to irk and/or trouble me most is the increasing use of whether or not a character is “relatable,” or even worse “likeable,” as a criterion of a book’s quality.

The notion comes up in relatively mild iterations – off-hand comments, for example – and in more serious ways, like, lets say, a professor who chooses only to teach writers that resemble him in some ways… But in any version, this idea strikes me as problematic. After all, one of the most valuable things about literature has always been, for me, the opportunity to step outside of the comfortable world one already knows, to encounter previously unknown things, unknown people, unknown ideas. Those can be troubling, unlikable, uncomfortable, for excellent and useful reasons.

This article at The Times considers this sort of question. Not as deeply as I might like, but it’s nice to see the discussion happening.

Have a look and see how you feel.