People seem to like reading books about dysfunctional characters more than they do about characters who don’t struggle with deep emotional conflict. And, yet, in real life, they are more drawn to people who make them laugh than people who have complex problems.
Maybe it’s because in real life, your friend’s conflicts mirrors so much of your own life and you’re expected to show some reaction. You don’t have to give your friend advice but you do have to show compassion or sympathy for what they’re going through whereas, when you read a book, you can read about their problems without revealing your own.
We all have memories of our worst days from childhood to teens. For some, it’s the awkwardness of not knowing what to say on a date or looking in the mirror, just as you’re about to get dressed for a social event and seeing a zit that just popped out on your face overnight. For others, it’s being afraid of confrontations and never allowing your real self to be seen.
No matter how young or how old you are, those memories stand out in bas-relief and you can never forget them. And, what is worse, your parents will never let you forget the worst of them, so they live on in your memory bank, influencing your actions and your self-image all your life.
When you read about a character in a book who isn’t popular in school, it can trigger your memories of being the new kid on the block and having to start over in a new school, eating lunch by yourself in the school cafeteria because no one has invited you to sit at their table. And no amount of reassurances from adults that it’s just a matter of time before you make some friends will alleviate those feelings of awkwardness and loneliness until you make your first friend.
If you are outgoing and can make people laugh, you probably had an easier time of making friends when you were very young but you can still identify with a character in a book, how uncomfortable you felt, trying to fit in, and not knowing if the kids were laughing with you or at you.
Books that are promoted as comedic, are expected to elicit a laugh a minute and they are usually disappointing, whereas humor can be interjected in books that are billed as drama and, when something is funny, you are likely to laugh out loud because it is so unexpected.
So, what does that make us? As book lovers we love to read about dysfunctional relationships but as people looking for easy relationships, we are drawn to people who make us laugh and feel good about ourselves. Do the dysfunctional characters in a book provide us with just enough drama in our boring lives or do we need to bring a little of that drama into our day-to-day existence to make our lives more interesting?