For ages on Goodreads I had a really annoying follower who would always complain when I reviewed a book on the basis of liking or not liking the characters. Honestly, I’ve lost track of why they felt that was the case, but it was based on some idea of how one should actually appreciate books, and particularly given the fact I was an English Lit student (and later graduate, and then postgrad).
Friends, it’s bullshit. You can like or not like a book for whatever reason you want on your own time. Personal reading for pleasure has nothing to do with an academic assessment of a book’s merits — if you even think that the job of academia is to sit in judgement over whether a book is good or not (which I think would’ve had the entire literature department at daggers drawn if it was truly what the study of literature is all about).
So yeah. I’ll come right out and say it: likeable characters are a big part of whether I enjoy a book or not. They don’t have to be perfect (that’s just boring), but mostly I do need to be able to root for them, care about what happens, and not just be waiting for them to hurry up and die. It’s part of what adds tension to a story. If you don’t care whether the characters live or die, that climatic scene with the big bad doesn’t mean very much.
There are books you like in spite of characters — and characters who are terrible people but engaging anyway, too! Likeable doesn’t have to mean in the right, either. And characters definitely don’t have to be relateable in the sense of sharing experiences with me: what’s important is that I can understand why they think and feel the way they do.
So, how about you guys? Characters? Or could they be cardboard cutouts for all you care?