Well, it’s a subjective term for a subjective topic 😉 As much as we hear how “relatable” a book is lately by reviewers (guilty) and vaguely know it means empathising with particular experiences (also guilty), it’s actually a hard one to pin down. Soooo I guess I’m going to have to just talk about what relatable means to me 😉
Trouble is, when readers talk about relating to a book it could be any number of things. The biggest draw for the “relatable” moniker is relating to the characters or their experiences (and the coolest thing is this isn’t genre specific!). Other times, it could be as simple as relating to the setting or time period. And all of this is great, because it can be a pathway into enjoying a story.
That said, “not relatable” is becoming one of the most common forms of criticism for a book. And this, for me, seems to be where a lot of the issues come in. Look, don’t get me wrong, it’s of course fine to say you found it “unrelatable”. It gives some context as to why you didn’t enjoy it. It’s a similar catchall to “I personally didn’t connect”- and that’s fine, nothing wrong with subjectivity in reviews. However, the problem is when this subjective term is being applied “objectively”.
Because for some reason this seems to give people licence to collectively hate on a book (kind of ironic since it’s a form of *hyper individualism* to demand a book conforms to individual worldviews and experiences). And to my mind, shaming a book because it’s not #relatable seems daft. Let’s be real- it’s far from the be all and end of storytelling. Books should be about you empathising with people we don’t relate to *just as much* (or maybe *EVEN MORE*).
I’d also say that I have the issue- as a reviewer- of not often wanting to get into the specificity of why I relate. I very much leave it up to other people to *read between the lines* of why I find something relatable (usually because I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of why I related to it). And I’d guess that a lot of other reviewers do the same, applying the term to avoid saying why a book meant SO DAMNED MUCH to us. Problem is, this can leave a person wondering, what even is relatable?
Perhaps, then, we are overusing the term. Perhaps we could attach more clarity to it when we do use it (I’m as guilty of this as the next person!) I don’t think the word is devoid of meaning, but it doesn’t have magical powers to convey meaning in the way we reviewers seem to think it does 😉
So, what do you think of the term “relatable”? Do you use the term as much as I do? Or do you think it’s best avoided? Let me know in the comments!