Friday, October 17, 2008

A Good Book . . .

Reading preferences are so strange. Even among avid readers and writers, the same book can evoke totally different reactions. Sometimes one person will enjoy a book and another person will hate it.

I've also seen a lot of times lately where one person will think a book is absolutely horribly written and another person thinks it's the cat's meow. Those aren't the same thing: I can dislike a book while admitting that it's well done but just not my cup of tea. Yet it's odd how often people can disagree on even whether something is well-crafted, aside from whether they liked it.

Who's right?

Not long ago, a good friend of mine despised two books I really enjoyed (one of which I loved and read in one sitting, which is very rare for me).

Another friend said that an author I enjoy is too much like Jane Austen . . . like that's a bad thing.

And yet another friend recommended a book that nearly seared my eyeballs it was so bad. I couldn't finish it.

At the core, I suppose, is the fact that there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to writing. While not everything is subjective in this gig, a lot is. Where I can't stand Faulkner or Hemingway, I do like Steinbeck, but I know others who feel exactly the opposite.

I'm a pretty eclectic reader. I don't focus on a single genre, and the titles I pick up are all over the map, so in general, I think I have a pretty decent idea when something is "good."

Which is probably reflective in a conversation I had tonight with my husband:

Me: "Hey, you know that book I'm reading?"

DH gives me a blank look. He pretends to count books on the fingers of both hands, then looks up and grins.

And I about fall over laughing at myself.

So yeah, okay, that was a stupid question. A really stupid one. I needed to be a bit more specific, being as at any given time I'm reading half a dozen (or several more) books.

Trying again:

"Hey, honey, you know that hardback novel I'm reading that's about this thick and has a blue cover with white text? The one I was reading this afternoon while you sat by me watching Monk?"

Or maybe I should be a normal person and read one book at a time.

(Stop laughing. It could happen. Maybe. Okay, fine.)

In all seriousness, what do you think completes this sentence, at least for you:

A good book . . .

I thought I had a lot of the answers, but seeing so many titles I love being trashed by others (and the flip: books I really, really dislike heralded as brilliance), I'm not so sure anymore.



Cheryl said...

Ha! I'm not normal either. I am ALWAYS reading more than one book. I don't know if you ever watched Gilmore Girls when it was on but in , I think, the first season the daughter had this huge backpack and the mom asked her why she needed so many books. The conversation went on to basically say how she never knew which mood she would be in so she needed the fiction, the light fiction, the non fiction, the book of poetry, etc. I loved that. I usually have at least 3-4 books going at once.

Sandra said...

Are there people that read only one book at a time? How do they do that?
For me, A good book engages me, pulls me into the story, makes me care about the characters and what is happening to them. If it is a romance, I need to fall in love with the main guy. A suspense or thriller? Then I need to feel afraid, or hold my breath for several paragraphs in a row. Historical? Then I should learn something. Religious based, then I should also be uplifted and a better person when I am done (or at least want to be)

Heffalump said...

I think what is good is subjective to my mood, my emotional state and how close I am paying attention. Its different for everyone. Some books are light reading for me, and I don't expect it to be life changing, or even to care deeply about the characters, its what I call fluff reading. Fluff reading for me, is like playing tetris or some other mind numbing game. Its just to get a break from reality. Some books I love because they make me care about the characters and what happens to them. There are some books that just give me a headache (books that I know are well written, and have a great plot but I don't have the mental energy to put into it).
I will admit that I sometimes pick up a Louis L'Amour book (of which I have over 50) because there is a certain predictability there for me and I like knowing that the good guy is usually going to win in the end.
Now that I have written a novel length answer...the succinct version is...what makes a good the reader.

Cheryl said...

See, now I cannot read more than one book at the same time. I get too engrossed in the novel that I can't be distracted by other plots, you know? This is why I usually have about 10 books in my queue (i.e. on my end table) and I read through them as quickly as I can, but drowning --not immersing! --myself into each one.

I understand what you mean about a good book; so many people loved Catcher in the Rye --my friend named her son Holden! But I thought it was just pure trash. The writing wasn't even very good to me; maybe it's been so long I should try again? Meh.

I think books get this split identity for many reasons. It could be the reader is uneducated in the written word; they are purely there for entertainment. Maybe the reader is an English professor and the style of writing --meant to be non-grammatical --drives them insane. It could be the reader just doesn't like certain morals found in some texts. Whatever the case, it truly is up to the reader's discretion. Your point about praising an author for good writing but still not liking the book? That makes sense; but I would put you in the category of an educated reader (what with you being an author and all). :)

Melanie Jacobson said...

A good book is one where I can't see the seams. Doesn't matter the genre, but as long as the writing doesn't every become visible, then I'll probably enjoy it, or at least appreciate it. But if I can feel the author working, or think, "This needed more revision," it drives me nuts and takes me right out of the story. A good book is one I can disappear into and never see the wizard behind the curtain.

Karlene said...

Did you know that some people don't even read ONE book in a year?!? They are the strange ones. Let's see, I'm reading 4 right now.

Good book for me -- interesting characters that I can relate to and a plot line that twists and turns.

Anonymous said...

"nearly seared your eyeballs it was so bad!"

hahaha, you made me laugh out loud at that. thanks :)

Heather Moore said...

I read several books at a time too--basically because I read for different reasons. But I do agree--it's funny what some people love and some people hate. I guess that's why there's room for lots of writers out there :)

Rachelle Christensen said...

Great question. I think so much of it has to do with what you expect from the book you're reading. If it meets your expectations than you probably like it. Many of us read different books for different reasons. If you check out some of the book reviews I've posted on my blog, I'm sure you'll see that I pull some things from my reading that others might not. A lot of times I might be able to forgive some writing faux paus in a book because it has some other brilliant things to offer. But I totally agree with you--sometimes I see a book being raved about which I thought was torture to read or vice versa.

Anonymous said...

I'm usually reading about 3 books at a time and have several others that I started and for some reason haven't finished. I fully intend to though....I don't know when!

I haven't figured out what the difference is, either. I wanted to add to that, but I've got nothing!

Luisa Perkins said...

My response would be similar to Melanie J's if I weren't typing one-handed.

Annette Lyon said...

MelanieJ, I love what you said! I've never heard it put so succinctly, but that (I think, anyway) should be every writer's goal--to write a seamlessly as possible so the reader never once gets jolted out into remembering it's just a book.


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