There’s an old saying, we don’t always know what we want, but we can be sure we don’t like what we don’t know.
A few days back, I read a book about nothing. I loved it. I can’t recommend it to anyone else because a) nothing much happens in the book, b) people might think I have terrible taste in books, c) I can’t face the judgement. If nothing much happens in it if there’s no story, why the hell did I enjoy that book, you ask? Hell, if I know. I am also trying to uncover the mystery.
So then I thought back to all the books and movies that have impacted me so. There were many great books, many great stories, several characters who spoke to me. So why do people like what they like? There’s an old saying, we don’t always know what we want, but we can be sure we don’t like what we don’t know. Science and research show that often when we get pleasure from something, it’s not based on what we see or what we hear or what we feel. Instead, it’s based on what we believe that thing to be.
Personally, I am inclined to books that have a protagonist who has something in common with me. Maybe even multiple characters who I can relate to. This is absolutely necessary for fantasy and sci-fi. Otherwise, it’s a deal-breaker for me. Why? Because in fantasy and sci-fi, the effect of the unbelievable is too much. There’s already a lot of magic, technology or entire worlds that we don’t know. So if we could not relate to the characters, relate to their struggles, understand their misfortunes, and laugh at their jokes, we will understand nothing. Many people indeed read as a means of escape from their lives. At least I know I do. So if we don’t want to be in our lives, our world, then why balk at unfamiliarity? After all, we wanted the unfamiliar world, we yearn for the stranger things, then why do we want the characters to be relatable in fantasy? Especially for me, when the world is unfamiliar when everything seems out of place, I need a friend. Someone I can root for, someone whose struggle I can understand. That’s why I want relatable characters in fantasy. Every so often, I read a fantasy or sci-fi book where I can’t grasp the world or the characters yet so well written that I enjoy the journey anyway.
Contemporary fiction is a whole other story. We can relate to the settings. The world the characters live in is our own. So we can associate to that, even if we do not see eye to eye with the characters, there will still be a familiar element. When the book is set in a friendly environment, it is easier for me to grasp the strange characters. Every so often, a contemporary book comes along, which has a very relatable character. These books, oh, they are something else. That book I was talking about? The nothing happening book? That was one of these books. The main character was so much like me. My first thought was if someone read this book, they’d see me for who I am.
I absolutely love those books, but I will never discuss them with anyone else. I even go as far as hiding the book in my bookshelf. My favorite books are probably the ones I never talk about, the ones I re-read in secret, the ones I have hidden away in my bookshelf. This book reminded me of bright summers and the evening rain, of things that were not and everything that should be, endless conversations and a loyal friend, guilt and love. It was a book about nothing, yet it had everything. A simple book with the most uncomplicated story. Why did I like it? Maybe it was my story too.