Post­ed by Miri Pomer­antz Dauber

A few months ago, The New York Times’ Book Review sec­tion ran a Book­ends” item that asked, Are we too con­cerned that char­ac­ters be lik­able’?”. It’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion, and the answers that Mohsin Hamid and Zoe Heller wrote raise all sorts of ques­tions that a book per­son like me has fun think­ing about (you should def­i­nite­ly take a minute to read it), but it also reignit­ed an ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion in my house about books that are dri­ven by char­ac­ter or by plot.

I, like many read­ers I know and in the vein of Zoe Heller’s response, feel that I need to con­nect to the main char­ac­ter in some way in order to enjoy a book. I don’t have to love the char­ac­ter or feel that they are entire­ly lik­able, but if I spend the whole of my read­ing annoyed, dis­gust­ed or dis­in­ter­est­ed in the major­i­ty of the pri­ma­ry char­ac­ters, I’m just not com­pelled to keep read­ing (that said, I tend to slog through even if I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like the book). No one wants to spend an evening with some­one they just don’t like, so why would I want to spend an evening read­ing about that per­son? For my over­all expe­ri­ence of read­ing a book to be pos­i­tive and for me to care about the out­come of the book — and there­fore be invest­ed and inter­est­ed in mov­ing for­ward with my read­ing — I have to find some­thing redeem­ing in the peo­ple that I’m read­ing about.

My hus­band, a vora­cious read­er of all gen­res, reads to find out what hap­pens. He is inter­est­ed in the plot, with the char­ac­ters fea­tur­ing more as play­ers in the game rather than peo­ple to spend an evening with or to feel invest­ed in. As a lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor, he’s obvi­ous­ly very aware of char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and moti­va­tion, but whether or not he likes the char­ac­ters — or con­nects with them in any way — has no bear­ing on his inter­est in or enjoy­ment of a book.

And so we’ve gone back and forth dis­cussing this issue. He can’t see why not lik­ing char­ac­ters changes my enjoy­ment of the sto­ry, and I can’t fath­om how it wouldn’t. What we’ve found is that this argu­ment seems to, at least anec­do­tal­ly, divide down gen­der lines. As my hus­band has said, he almost nev­er hears a man say that he didn’t like a book because he couldn’t con­nect with the char­ac­ters, a claim that he and I have both heard fre­quent­ly from female readers.

So what do you think? Is this anoth­er way in which read­ing — in many respects an egal­i­tar­i­an activ­i­ty — is actu­al­ly gendered? 

Join the con­ver­sa­tion. #YouTheRe­ad­er

Miri joined the JBC team in Win­ter, 2004 upon grad­u­at­ing from Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty. Orig­i­nal­ly from Philadel­phia, she has lived and stud­ied in Israel and Lon­don. Pri­or to work­ing with JBC, she interned for the Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety. After sev­en years as the direc­tor of the JBC Net­work pro­gram, Miri has shift­ed her focus to book clubs, work­ing to devel­op resources to bet­ter serve book club readers.