What Makes a Good Book?

When I’m not reading, I’m always surprised at how little time there is to read.

Then I get into a good book and I’m surprised at how little time there is for anything else.

What Makes A Great Read (1)

As my very first homemade infographic (thank you, Canva) illustrates, for me there are three essential elements: pace, humor, and growth.

It was tough to know exactly how broad or narrow to go with this. I’m a generalist rather than specialist at most things in life, and the same applies to my books.

I like to read crime, historical, sci-fi, “classic” (which isn’t really  a category), dystopian or…normal.

I admire Dickensian floridity and enjoy five word sentences quite a bit as well (though I’m terrible at writing them – case in point).

I like plot (duh), romance (sigh), and conflict (argh).

But what’s weird is, I feel like I read more novels that I don’t like than novels that I do. Does that make me a cynical generalist? Maybe.

So I sat, thought, and came up with these three must-haves: pace, humor, and growth.

For me, pace is not about style of writing so much as it is about evenness of plot. And not necessarily speed of plot, though often a slow plot is the tell. Evenness. Pace is what that seventh Harry Potter movie lacked. We spent 2 hours in the wilderness and then there was a sudden battle at the end.  I think. It wasn’t that memorable to me. If that whole eight-film HP series had been as wistfully slow then I probably would have been ok with it. But we’d been regaled with so much nail-biting adventure in the previous six movies that watching the seventh felt like death by navel-gazing.

So pace is important to me. Lead me through valleys and race me through heights but be consistent in how much time we spend in each place. Please.

Humor is my second essential. Call my crazy but I’m rarely in the mood to read a book like The Road. If I want to get in touch with the depravity of man I’ll turn on the news. I mean, we can go there within a novel and perhaps even make it mandatory, but a really great novel about the fallen world makes you laugh at it even while you recoil, right? I read a fantastic book in 2013 called The Sisters Brothers. It was wickedly funny – and about emptiness. Read it.

Finally, I want growth. A novel that’s about a character that ends up in the same place she started is rarely satisfying. This is why I hated Gone Girl, even though it was wickedly funny and about emptiness. I don’t like those stories where there is a happy ending and a sad ending and the author picks the sad ending because it’s more “profound”.

Profound for me is the  opposite of the sad ending. I guess I have to admit it: I want a moral tale. I want the good guys to win. Because when the good guys win something deep within me is called to the fight too.

What are your three must-haves in a good book? (And please, no jokes about a beginning, middle, and end. Though that is a pretty good joke. But I’ve just told it.)

10 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Book?

  1. One that has a built-in bookmark, big enough print and stays open.
    I go crazy when I’m playing the piano and the book insists on closing on me!

  2. In keeping with my New Years Resolutions, a good book should be:

    Dietetic – keeps me so engaged that I forget to eat and keep away from snacks.

    Cardio – mystery and intrigue to make my heart race. Will this count as exercise?

    Organized – much like the organizing that needs to be accomplished in my office, a good book should be organized to be able to have it all makes sense and flow together. Could be why I’m not accomplishing so much these days.

    It’s my sincere hope that by reading a good book that I could possibly meet all of my resolutions this year? Ya, I didn’t think so. But I am so very happy to see your blogs again. They always make me smile.

  3. The Violinist — couldn’t agree more about the book closing then. Does your thumb get as tired as mine does from holding it open? I don’t like reading on an iPad so I guess I’ll have to do some thumb Pilates.

  4. I like clear writing that helps me see exactly what the author is describing; I like to be transported to another place, time, or life; I like books that offer insight on what it means to be human.

  5. I like a book to resonate with me long after I have finished it. If it is non-fiction, to remember quotes or sayings that become part of my collective conscious.
    For fiction, I want to be left like a limp rag when done; I have cared so deeply for the characters- their pain has made me gut-wrenchingly cried (or at least small tears in the corners of my eye) or their joys have made me laugh out loud (much to the annoyance of the other reader- Uncle John- in the room).
    I do agree that growth is very important. To be in community is to learn from each other. What better way than through story.

  6. Now that “we” are going to have a book club…to me a good book is emotional ..laughter and tears, joy and struggle. A good book teaches me something that perhaps I didn’t think I needed to know. And make me care so much that I struggle to not turn to the end to make sure the characters are OK…..

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