How do you define good? Good or bad have many implications. When talking about a piece of steak, someone can say, “Hey don’t eat that, it’s bad”. Now that can mean, “Hey that’s been sitting out all night and full of bacteria and if you eat it you will become sick.” Which is important information. However, if what I mean is that steak is full of saturated fats and if you eat it you may suffer health consequences; I’m imparting factual information that may or may not impact your decision to eat that steak. Or it can just mean, “I don’t like red meat,” which is subjective and isn’t helpful in your decision to eat that steak.
So if someone tells me that is book is good or bad, I’m going to ask for more information. Even standard review phrases like “beautiful prose” can be misleading. Don’t get me wrong, I love well written prose that can evoke a scene or emotion. However, it’s got to have more for me. For example, The Orchardist was described as having lyrical and evocative writing. I fought my way through that book. It did have some beautiful language but it just didn’t engage my emotions. Yet when it was time to discuss it at my book club, others expressed enjoyment in the book. So when I say, “Don’t read that book, it’s boring” that is my judgement. Just as others read it and found it to be a powerful story. Which one of us is right and which one wrong?
Will my love of Nora Roberts turn my brain to mush as some are like to suggest? Am I snobbish if I talk of my love of the classics such as My Antonia and The Age of innocence? I’ve noticed that being part of a large social book forum, like Goodreads, you can find just as many cliques as you’ll find in school. And every one has an opinion. The opinions I love the best are the ones that are filled with details of what they loved or hated about the reading experience. Sometimes I find that a description of a book leaves me cold but someone will describe their experience with the book and I just have to read it.
So here are a few things I look for when looking for a “good” book:
- Strong female characters (I love J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas. She is one kick ass woman)
- Teaches me something I didn’t know (The Paris Wife gave me a glimpse of a Hemingway I would not have known about otherwise)
- Speaks to me spiritually/metaphysically (The Golem and the Jinni offered a wonderful exploration of what makes us human)
- Rip roaring exciting thriller (Robert Ludlum)
- Epic tales (The Lord of the Ring, Harry Potter)
- Good world building (see epic tales plus Lynn Flewelling’s Nighrunner series)
- A deep connection to a character (Calling Me Home allowed me to experience a white girls’ experience of falling in love with a black man in the 1950’s and Me Before You put me in a wheelchair unable to move.)
- I’m an inbetweener for language – I’m not a fan of minimalism (Amity & Sorrow) but also not a fan of throwing everything in and the kitchen sink (Michael Chabon)
Having said all of that, there’s still a lot of room for me to like or dislike a book with one or more of these characteristics present. For me, it all comes down to whether I connect with the people in the book. And sometimes there is no rational explanation why I like or dislike a book. I just do. So when I offer my perspective on a book, it’s quite subjective.
What is your good?