Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 11 February 2017

WHAT MAKES A GOOD BOOK GOOD? by Gill Stewart



For the last year or so I’ve been keeping a record of all the books I’ve read, and even of those I’ve started and not finished. I’ve been trying to understand what it is that makes a book a GOOD book – to me – so I’ve chosen the last three books to which I gave the full five stars, and I've tried to discover what qualities they have that set them above the hundred or so others with three or four stars (less than three stars and I don’t carry on).

Image resultThese books are quite diverse. They are:
·         ‘Falling’ by Julie Cohen, a recently published women’s contemporary fiction novel;
·         ‘The Year Of Living Danishly’ by Helen Russell, an autobiography/political commentary; and
·         ‘Faking It’ by Jennifer Crusie, a classic romantic comedy.

I’ve tried to identify the things that make them such all-round successes for me, and have come up with the following. These qualities are in addition to having attractive characters that the reader is rooting for – I take that as a given!

 Immersive - as a reader you are completely in these books. It's not just the story that carries you forward but the setting and the little details about the main and secondary characters. This is a world you can believe in.
Off-beat – to a greater or lesser extent all the characters are out of the ordinary, which makes them particularly interesting, but the key thing is that they are not caricatured. It’s very easy to caricature eccentricity, but for me that doesn’t make a good read.

Accessible style – the style of writing is not literary, not trying for long words and (even worse) long sentences/paragraphs. It is easy reading. In both the Jennifer Crusie and Helen Russell books, humour is also very much to the fore, which helps.

Page-turners – all are books that make you want to read on, that you regret every time you have to put them down. They are not the heart-in-your-mouth or blood-and-guts type of page-turners, however, as those don’t appeal to me. I don’t like too much tension and I definitely don’t want tragedy. These three were the perfect balance of interest, action and resolution. And there was the added bonus, with the Russell book, that I felt I was learning something new, too!

What qualities do other people feel are essential to a ‘good’ book?

13 comments:

  1. I agree with all your points, immersiveness, off-beat, accessible style and page-turning elements all make for a great read. However, I enjoy a tense plot, a bit of purple prose or literary depth (not too much and it must remain readable without a university degree in English Literature). Readers are so diverse, that what makes a good book for one, makes for a dismal failure for another reader. However, characters who you enjoy reading about, lays a good foundation for a great read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree - and I know that what I consider to be a 'good' book won't be the same for everyone. Witness the best-seller lists!

      Delete
  2. Agreed. It all depends on the reader and their idiosyncratic tastes and expectations. This is akin to asking "What makes a great meal?" The carnivore's answer would be very different from the vegetarians. And with books, the lover of crime fiction (such as myself) would provide a different answer to your question from those who dive into romance or fantasy. Horses for courses. However, basic essentials are that any book must be grammatical and literate. The positives of self-publication have brought with it far too many books that fail to meet these basic criteria and that does a great disservice to reading and writing as a whole.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love the comparison with a meal! I do enjoy crime too, but again I have to stay away from the blood-and-guts end. Thanks for popping by.

      Delete
  3. And forgive me for the missed apostrophe on vegetarian's ... it is late at night and I shouldn't be doing this now.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Such an interesting exercise, Gill. I quite often take a novel I've particularly enjoyed and try to work out why it hit all the right notes for me, but have never tried to analyse a selection of favourite reads. Immersive - is really important and the sign of great writing. I don't necessary need characters to be off-beat but I do enjoy if I learn something new, am educated, by living in some else's shoes - perhaps that's why I enjoy novels set abroad. Accessible style - is preferable. I don't mind working hard if it's a story I enjoy and it can be useful to be stretched reading-wise, but my favourites are mostly great page turning reads. An interesting collection, Gill. Loved this post. : )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I'm starting to think I should be prepared to work a little harder at my reading, but instinctively I just LOVE an accessible style.

      Delete
  5. I apologise for being late to the party but my thoughts are that a good book should (i) have characters that the reader can empathise well with, even though they may well not agree with their worldview and motives; (ii) the narrative and description should be lively and engaging - immersive, as mentioned above; (iii) the story=line should be credible and believable, even if it might be a fantasy or a science-fiction story; (iv) the story-line must be surprising and challenging and (v) it must be accessible, again as outlined here. I don't believe that this is a comprehensive list or even that it's always true but I do feel that most of these attributes should be there to a greater or lesser degree for a book to grab my attention for more than a few pages before I feel as though I'd be better off trying something more to my liking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for this Mark. I really like your point about the story-line being surprising or challenging. Interesting thoughts!

      Delete
  6. Ooh! I just bought The Year of Living Danishly to read before I go to Copenhagen for wee holiday next month. Good to know you liked it, Gill. Look forward to reading it (and of course to the pastries!).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooo, lucky you! Enjoy Copenhagen. Definitely on my to-visit list.

      Delete