What makes a book good? How can we tell the difference between the average book that's okay but nothing special and the really great book that you'll keep re-reading till the cows come home?
It's pretty tricky, huh? Well, defining a good book is downright impossible: everyone's tastes are different. You might love sci-fi, or you might hate it, but either way, you're never going to agree with someone who has opposite tastes to you. It's like Marmite =]
But everyone is the same in one way as regards a good book - for a book to be truly good, it must tick several proverbial boxes. For me, it's no good if the book is simply action-packed and pacey, even if I really enjoy it, because it's got to be written well too. And vice verse - books that are amazingly written but extremely dull just don't count as good for me. You might disagree with me on this, and that's fine. I'm just saying what I personally require. And of course, everyone has different requirements. I'm sure that for some people, just action-packed and pacey is great, exactly what they're looking for, and it doesn't matter how the author writes as long as they enjoy it. And other people require more out of their books.
So just ask yourself for a minute, what do you require in a book for it to be classed as 'good'? If it was enjoyable, would that be 'good'? Or does it need something else? Some extra spark, to lift it above 99.9% of what you read and into the realms of 'favourite'?
In my opinion - and of course you may or may not agree with me - most people enjoy most books. Most of what you read is okay, mediocre, pretty enjoyable but nothing particularly special, nothing you'd recommend to your friends, a kind of three out of five stars. So what does it need to get those extra two stars?
It's different for everyone. You can get an idea of what I require in a good book from looking at the way I rate books. I have five categories that I rate out of five stars - subject, storyline, characters, writing style, enjoyability - and then an overall rating in both stars and words.
The categories rather speak for themselves. In a subject, I don't ask for anything in particular, although I like a book that's historical or romantic or humorous or adventurous. I don't mind what the subject is as long as whatever it does, it does well.
Storylines are difficult. If they're intricate but easy to follow, that's a really great storyline. But some books are less about what happens, and more about how it happens and the way people react. So for me, having a complicated storyline isn't essential to a good book.
Characters need to be good. They need to be well presented, well rounded, unique, believable, human... Yes, I ask for a lot. But characterisation is my own personal strong-point (as a writer), and so I'm naturally most picky about it.
A good writing style is a must for me as well. Interesting use of sentence structures, or new ways of saying things, or, if it's in the first person, a characterful narrative voice and style - these all count as a good writing style. If the book isn't written well, then it's taken off my shelves. Although I do sometimes make exceptions, for a book that's particularly good in the other areas.
Enjoyability. What more can I say? The writing style, the characters, the subject, the storyline - can all be as great as they like, but if I didn't enjoy the book, then it's a non-starter. I enjoy plenty of average books, but the best ones, the ones that are truly good, are the ones that rate highly in all of the above categories.
But this is just me. You might think completely differently to me, and that's absolutely fine. Because the important thing to remember when deciding what you think of a book is that what other people think doesn't count. Sure, it's helpful to read a review before deciding whether to read a book or not, and don't let me stop you - it's a great way to hear about new books - but ultimately, it's what you think that matters. So what if everyone else is rating a book five out of five and you only give it one? So what if everyone is raving about a book you thought sucked? Just because someone else has decided a book is good or bad doesn't mean you have to agree with them. It's called living in a (relatively) free world.
I'm not here to tell you definitively what a good book is or isn't. That's your job. Your opinion is as good as mine. I'm here to tell you that you needn't be afraid to think just a little differently from everyone else. What makes a book better than 99.9% of the others? What makes a reader or reviewer better than 99.9% of the others?
Same thing. Same difference. And my point is still the same - your choice. Your job. Your opinion, even.
So go out there, and say what you really think! And read lots! And eat cookies! And leave a comment saying what you look for in a good book. And eat more cookies =]
(originally guest posted on Me and Reading)