Characters We Hate

What’s on my mp3 player? Well, something I want to discuss, but not something I want to name. The book is fine. The writing is engaging and the story unfolds nicely, showing the good, the bad, and the ugly with honesty and compassion. But it’s a biography of a real live person–I looked him up on the Web–and what I want to talk about is how awful this guy is! Sorry, but I can’t name him or the book about him while ragging on him. That’s just not nice.

The book is about an interesting and in many ways remarkable man. His achievements are astounding, but he is also arrogant and rigid to the nth degree, a hypocrite in many ways, and so lacking in social skills that his interpersonal relationships are train wrecks.

I almost didn’t listen to the whole book because I couldn’t stand the guy. He’d spout some rhetoric about what’s wrong with the world and what he’s doing to counteract it, but his actions, while interesting and astounding, don’t support his words. On one hand, I kind of resent having him held up as an example of an ideal when in reality he’s a lousy example. On the other hand, the author doesn’t sugar-coat it, she acknowledges what an awful example he is, but that is part of the attraction, I guess.

Here’s my question: Do you enjoy books about characters you hate?

I think my answer is no. Wuthering Heights comes to mind. I hated it. I couldn’t stand Anna Karenina, and consequently didn’t like her story. Same with some Sinclair Lewis characters. The list goes on, but it’s not long.

And then there are Charles Dickens’ despicable characters who are so gloriously and hilariously drawn that we actually love them even though we know they’re bad, and we’re happy when they get their comeuppance.

We’re supposed to love to hate despicable characters, and I imagine some people do, but I don’t. I don’t seek out books with characters I can hate. I don’t want to spend the length of a book hating someone. I don’t watch scary or suspenseful movies, either. That’s not fun for me. It’s not how I want to spend my time.

Here’s my next question: Are there kids books–YA, MG, PB–with main characters readers are expected to hate? Main characters–not the bad guys. The character readers are supposed to identify with. I can’t think of any. Can you?

Categories: Reading