Bookish Musings: Sometimes Reading Makes Me Feel Like a Privacy Invader


I could not, no matter how hard I tried, figure out a more eloquent word for this post title. I was go to go with voyeur instead of privacy invader, but voyeur has too much of a sexual connotation, and I didn’t want people to be confused because this post is about so much more than just sex. Eavesdropper is also close to my meaning, but that generally only applies to listening. There’s snoop, but that usually applies to looking through phones, documents, etc. And spy just sounded too suave and mysterious. But anyway…

This post idea came about because of a couple specific things that I’ll explain below, and it ended up being a lot more serious than I thought it would be considering it was kind of a joke when I first had this thought. (Speaking of seriousness, *TRIGGER WARNING*: I will be talking about suicide in this post.) But it is a thought I had lately, and, well, when I have bookish thoughts, I share them! I’m a book blogger. It’s what I do. So let’s talk about it!

I was talking with someone one day over email about sex scenes in books when this thought kind of suddenly hit me and I just said, “All this talk about sex scenes has suddenly made me realize what voyeurs readers and writers are.” And I was kind of joking. There was an lol at the end of that sentence. And I kinda just forgot that I had even said it.

But then, even more recently, I came across this feeling of, well, not voyeurism I guess since that has a sexual connotation, but this even stronger feeling that I was invading a character’s privacy. I was reading a graphic novel and one of the characters decided he wanted to kill himself. (I won’t tell you what graphic novel or what character in order to avoid spoilers, so we’ll call him Pete.) I saved this picture of Pete about to kill himself because I like to save my favorite pictures from graphic novels in the same way I like to save quotes from regular books, and this picture was powerful and important and emotional. And I kept going back to this picture for some reason. And the more I looked at this picture, the more I realized that this had to be the lowest point in Pete’s life. The whole scene was the kind of thing he probably wouldn’t want anyone to witness were he thinking straight. But there I was, witnessing it. Seeing him at his lowest moment.

And that’s the thing, that’s what prompted this post. We see characters in their most intimate and private and lowest moments. We’re there when they have sex. When they attempt suicide. When they make mistakes. When they cry in the shower. When they feel ashamed or scared or hurt. When they lash out in anger. When they think no one’s looking. We’re in their heads even, privy to their deepest and most hidden thoughts and feelings and fears and desires.

But I’ve read about other characters attempting or committing suicide. And I’ve read about plenty of characters doing all the other things I just mentioned. Yet this was the first time I can recall truly feeling like some sort of privacy-invader. So what was it about this time? Was it simply because I was looking at pictures rather than reading which made it seem more like I really was just witnessing something I shouldn’t whereas with regular books, I kind of just feel like I’m part of the character and the stuff that’s going on? Or did I just feel more of a connection to this character? Or was it something about the character himself that made it seem like he specifically, more so than other characters, wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see him like that? Who knows.

But don’t worry, I am aware that the characters I read about are, in fact, not real people. One of my absolute favorite things about reading is this chance to be in someone else’s mind in order to gain more understanding of people and their experiences and struggles. So I love that I get to experience these intimate and private moments with them. But still, well-written characters feel real while we’re reading about them, and that does make it seem a little voyeurish or privacy-invading, doesn’t it? Maybe the takeaway here is that we should appreciate these types of private moments and thoughts and feelings even more when we get to read about them since they’re the things that we don’t normally get to see from most people in real life even though they’re the things that help us understand people more.


Talk to me!

Have you ever felt like you were invading a character's privacy while reading?
What types of moments make you feel that way?
Is experiencing and understanding new perspectives also one of your favorite things about reading?


Your Thoughts


43 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: Sometimes Reading Makes Me Feel Like a Privacy Invader

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  1. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    What a weird thought to have (weird in a good way). I mean, it’s true, we are getting entertainment from the lives of others and are privy to some of their innermost thoughts. Now, to be fair, the characters are fictional so I’ve never thought of it in that way but it’s a little weird now I think of it like that. I mean, now I’ll feel weird reading (for as long as it takes me to remember this post, anyway) because those poor characters and their invasion of privacy! I can’t say this thought would ever cross my mind but it’s an interesting perspective.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol I do have lots of weird thoughts. It was weird to me too though since normally I don’t feel that way since they’re fictional, but for some reason I felt that way all the sudden with that one scene.

  2. chucklesthescot

    My answer to the question is no. The characters for me are there as a plot device to tell the story and that is what I do-I read the story. To be honest, I don’t spend time analysing characters, their decisions and thoughts in that way…I just read! I’m not greatly interested in experiencing and understanding perspectives…for me, in a fiction story, the only thing that interests me is where the plot is going, whether I like the characters and how much I’m enjoying the read. Even in non fiction like abuse memoirs that I used to read, the author chooses to share that private stuff so I don’t feel like I’m invading their privacy at all.

    1. Kristen Burns

      For me, the characters are everything, so I love kind of analyzing them and understanding their perspectives. I can enjoy a book with hardly any plot if the characters are good enough. But I mean, if someone is choosing to put their private stuff out there in a memoir or something, then yeah, it’s totally fair game.

  3. Angela

    I feel the same way sometimes – I read a book last year that made me feel like I was reading someone’s diary, and it was kind of uncomfortable – they way they were describing other people’s physical attributes. But for the most part, it doesn’t bother me. I like getting to know characters, especially when there are moments of, “Hey, I’ve felt like that, too” or had similar thoughts.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’m glad someone understands! Most of the time I don’t feel this way, but that one time I really did, and it was so strange. I also really like getting to know characters, and it’s the best when you relate to something a character is going through or feeling because it makes you realize there are other people who understand and have felt that way too.

  4. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I’ve never really thought about this, but I can kind of see what you mean. In some ways, I think that this is the best part about reading—in real life we keep our deepest, darkest secrets to ourselves—we put up a front to show the world, But in books, we get to experience those thoughts and feelings and really understand what makes someone tick. It can give us perspective and empathy for people in the real world because we were able to experience their situation more intimately with a character in a book than we would be able to with them in the real world. I think it makes us see others’ perspectives more clearly. Great discussion!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly. It really is the best part of reading because we don’t ever get to understand real people that deeply. We see what people are doing, but we don’t always understand why. I love getting to understand that in books. It was just weird when I got that voyeur feeling in that one scene!

  5. Let's Get Beyond Tolerance

    Interesting! I have never thought about this before but it’s so true! I think reading a graphic novel does give you that feeling a bit more because you’re LOOKING, whereas reading you aren’t seeing anything and you sometimes feel like the character. I do like learning about people and seeing different perspectives in books though. I think it creates a lot of empathy.


    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, somehow I think the GN format made it feel more voyeuristic, like I was just watching someone in their lowest moment. But I definitely love getting to understand characters’ perspectives and gain more empathy!

  6. Kate @ Parchment Girl

    This is a great post and it really made me think! I think you’re right that hardcore readers have voyeuristic tendencies (not necessarily in a sexual way, though I suppose that could be included). I know I do anyway but it’s not something I’ve ever felt weird about. The thing is, I think that people, in general, are not afraid of their worst/darkest moments being seenโ€“I think they’re afraid of being judged for them. I think people want a witness to their life and to not have that is painful and lonely. The problem is that most people do judge other people to a certain extent and so everyone is afraid that they will be judged in return. That’s what’s so great about literature though (well, good literature anyway)โ€“it promotes empathy, not judgement. So we can be benevolent witnesses to these characters darkest moments, and that’s a beautiful thing.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I mean, I don’t think anyone should weird for enjoying seeing those private moments while reading. It’s just something to think about, and it was really strange when it stuck me like that that one time. That’s an interesting point you make, that maybe we want people to see our darkest moments, we just don’t want to be judged for them. I’ve never really thought of it like that. I’m not sure if I 100% agree with that or not… but you’ve got me thinking now too, and I definitely agree that reading promotes empathy, and it is a beautiful thing getting to not just witness but understand characters in their dark moments and gain more empathy as a person!

  7. Greg

    I’ve never really thought about this, but I do think there is a big difference between experiencing a story from reading (where we visualize everything ourselves) and a GN or illustrated thing, where someone is interpreting that story FOR us. I think at least for me it often changes the story dramatically. I don’t know if I’ve ever had the feeling of invading privacy but now that you mention it I will probably will think about that more. And you have a good point about appreciating these moments, cause you’re right- we get ’em with fictional characters more than in RL.

    In this case it must have been a good GN or a really effective scene since it affected you so much, Who says GN’s can’t move us, right?

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I think the GN must’ve made a difference, but I hadn’t actually thought of that until I wrote this post, how different it might make the experience. But it’s still great to appreciate those moments in books, regardless of the format!

      Ah, I’ve reviewed this one, and I know you read the spoilers lol, so you’ve actually seen the one I was talking about. But hell yeah, GN can be just as impactful!

  8. Karen

    I don’t think I feel like I’m invading their privacy. I find it more…therapeutic, I guess? I like to see how the different characters hit that low point (or high point!) and work their way through. Sometimes that’s helpful or inspirational in my real life – even if my life isn’t quite so dramatic.

    For What It’s Worth

    1. Kristen Burns

      That makes sense. Reading can def feel therapeutic and cathartic. I too think it’s kind of inspirational. I feel like that might be one reason I like dark books but still appreciate when they have a happy ending—it’s reassuring to see the characters go through such struggles and low points but still make it through.

  9. Lily B

    That is quiet an interesting thought. I cannot say I ever felt that way. I think we do end up connecting once in a while with characters in the books and it hits us harder than we originally thought it would because of that formed connection, it could be due to a personal trigger. I can’t say that I ever felt like a voyeur with books because they are a written piece of work, but I can see feeling like I have invaded someones privacy if its a non-fiction about someones really hard point in life. But reading this, I can see where you are coming from and how that might feel to people.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Hmmm, things prob do hit us harder when we form more of a connection with a character. But yeah, I don’t feel like a voyeur most of the time since books are fictional. I think I might feel more uncomfortable reading a nonfiction, like you said. But then again, the person would have chosen to make that public, so it wouldn’t feel like an invasion of privacy really for that reason. Might feel kind of uncomfortable though.

  10. Kei @ The Lovely Page Reviews

    The book must be really something to get me to think about invading a fictional character’s privacy to be honest but I have had moments were I thought to myself, “ugh I did not need to know/see/read that”, which is so weird because that’s what books are all about. Literally being in someone’s life, on their bed, on their job, in their most heartbreaking/intimate/sad/happy moments. I have thought a lot more about the authors writing specific scenes, like, “someone actually thought about this and wrote it, wow” which again, is weird. But it all depends on the context I guess.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I’m not sure what it was about this one time that made that feeling hit like that. I totally get what you’re saying though about not needing to know something. I’ve also thought about authors writing scenes, sometimes when it’s something really weird that makes me think, “Why would anyone even think of that????” but other times it’ll be like some vampire sex scene or something, and I’m just like, “I’m glad there are authors out there who are twisted enough to think of this and have the guts to write it.” Lol.

  11. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    I hadn’t thought about this invasion of privacy that deeply before, Kristen, but I definitely agree with you. And I can’t make up my mind where the invasion is the strongest… In a first person narration, it’s like the character knows they’re sharing their thoughts with me. In third person, however, it’s like some creeper is observing them, and then sharing that with me. And yeah, good thing that’s all fictional, right?
    I think this is why I sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable when reading about certain scenes – especially sex that goes on for pages and pages. Like, I expect my own sex life to be private, but the characters don’t get that choice ๐Ÿ˜€ And I’m totally chuckling to myself now, because I read more romance than other genres, so I’ve definitely ‘watched’ a lot of sex unfold…
    I think maybe with graphic novels, that aspect of being very close to the action is even stronger, because if the drawings are very good, you can see facial expressions, and that has more of an impact than reading a description of the character’s facial expression, if that makes any sense at all.
    I might come back and comment more here, these thoughts were the first ones that fell into my brain. Excellent points, as always!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I don’t think 1st or 3rd makes a difference for me, but lol about your description of a creeper observing them. I do think the GN format made a difference though because it really did feel more like watching. And yeah, the poor characters don’t even get a choice. Def good thing it’s all fictional!

      What you said about facial expression makes complete sense. Body language too. I don’t even like movies as much as books because I don’t feel as connected to the characters, but I still find that they often make me more emotional than books when the actors are good. It’s being able to actually SEE their emotion that gets to me.

      Thanks! Do feel free to comment again if more thoughts pop into your head ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Rachel @ Chocolate and Chapters

    This is so interesting to think about. And truthfully, I’ve felt it before. I’ve especially had the thought, “If this were me, I’d be so embarrassed if someone were reading about this right now!” I’ll be thinking about this even more when I read now.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yay, someone else who’s felt it! I’m actually not easily embarrassed though, so I don’t generally feel secondhand embarrassment per se, but I get what you’re saying since it’s pretty much what I was saying too.

  13. Carole @ Carole's Random Life in Books

    I think that characters feel real because we are with them at their most private moments. The author has to let us into all of these times in order to show what is really at the core of the character. It is a good thing that these characters are fictional because most people wouldn’t want their lives so open to others.

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s a good point. The characters prob wouldn’t feel as real, or we wouldn’t connect to them the way we do, if we didn’t get to be there during those moments. I hadn’t thought of it that way!

  14. Pingback: Weekend Wrap-up #202 - First Week of School | (un)Conventional Bookviews

  15. Lys @ The Mad Reader

    It’s going to sound weird but that’s one of the things I love the most about reading. I love the feeling of knowing everything about a character’s life. I tend to spend a lot of time analyzing characters’ thoughts and actions but since they’re fictional I never thought of it as a privacy invasion but you’re right, it kind of is haha

    1. Kristen Burns

      Not weird at all—I completely agree! I also love getting to know everything about a character and getting to be there and know about those private moments. It is kinda privacy-invading, but since they’re fictional, it’s like an acceptable type of stalking ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    I must say, I have never thought of this before! But, it is an interesting topic for sure! I suppose on some level, we kind of are. since it’s quite intimate parts of the character’s lives? Though I don’t think I have ever felt like it was weird. I wonder if it is extra good character development that can elicit that feeling… or really bad character development? Quite curious!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! We do get to see characters’ most intimate moments, but for the most part I don’t find it weird either. It was mostly that one moment for some reason. It was definitely *good* character development with him though!

  17. Zeee @ I Heart Romance & YA

    I’m different because I put myself separate from the story and don’t really think about the voyeurism aspect or a privacy invader. I think the beauty of reading is that you get to be that but not really KWIM? Also, I read a lot of romance and there are a lot of sexytimes involved.. LOL

    But this is an interesting way to look at it…

    1. Kristen Burns

      I do know what you mean. I don’t feel like a voyeur most of the time while reading. I love getting to see the private moments of characters! And I also read a lot of sexytimes. Def can’t do that if seeing private moments makes you uncomfortable lol.

  18. Olivia Roach

    You know, I never really think about it in that way, but then when you told me about it, I thought back to some characters who had their lowest and most private moments and that we are really there to experience them and I thought – wow, she’s so right!

  19. Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium

    wow very interesting mussing! I had never felt that way! With really really good books I tend to forget they are fictional characters and get very connected with their experiences but I one of two things happen: 1) in the book is written in 3rd person POV then it feel that someone else did the privacy invasion and it’s telling me about or 2) if the book is written in 3rd deep POV or first person then I feel the characters themselves are telling me so I don’t feel like invading ether. Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s true, I tend to forget too. But I think the fact that this was a graphic novel had something to do with it. And maybe because I just kept going back to look at that one scene multiple times, so it was like I was somewhat disconnected from the story when I did that. But that’s interesting, the point you bring up about POV having an effect on this!

  20. Evelina

    Love this post. You make a good point. I guess I never thought about it like that, because in the end, if you identify with a character, you end up feeling like you’re them (at least I do, do you?) So then it doesn’t feel like watching so much anymore. But perhaps that’s why I don’t like sex scenes in books at all? ๐Ÿ˜€
    Great post, again.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ I actually don’t really ever feel like I *am* the character per se? But I do get lost in the story and in the character’s mind. But still, maybe it was the graphic novel format that had this effect on me since I was actually looking, if that makes sense. But hey, maybe this does explain why you don’t like sex scenes! Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚