Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.
This week’s question is part of a series based on 100th episode (“Ask The Readers Anything” ) of the UK-based podcast, The Readers. We thought it would be interesting (and fun!) to answer these questions from the perspective of writers who also (obviously) love to read.
QUESTION: What, in your opinion, makes a book a good book? (Loaded question, we know, but let’s just dive right in, shall we?)
Lisa J. Jackson: For me, it’s when my attention is caught and held. When I’m immediately drawn into the story — it doesn’t matter if it’s the characters, setting, or plot, but as long as something draws me in and has me curious enough to read the next paragraph and the next and the next, then it’s a good book. I just read a book last weekend, Boiled Over, by Barbara Ross. Sadly I started it late at night and had to stop reading at some point to sleep, but I finished it first-thing the next morning. It’s a 300+ page cozy mystery, but I was drawn in by the setting (Maine seacoast) and the characters and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. It brought back great memories of my own Maine summer vacations on the beach. I loved it! You can read my review of it here, if you like. This is the 2nd in a series. I need to go back and read the first now!
I haven’t found a perfect description for a good book – and what I think is good you might not like because we have different preferences. So, this loaded question is only going to offer so much for answers!
Susan Nye: The books that I love all have one thing in common, wonderful writing.
Diane MacKinnon: This is a tough question. The books I love are the books that stay with me–the ones I think about after I have finished them. Books that make me think about something in a different way, or recognize something I didn’t before. I think the story has to be great, but that doesn’t mean a lot has to happen. One of the books that comes to mind is Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. I read it years ago but it’s still with me. The transformation of the main character is what really stayed with me, I think. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it, but it’s a book I had to force myself to keep reading in the beginning but became a book I couldn’t put down. Another favorite, I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb, is the same. I slogged through the beginning but I’m still thinking about it (and the main character) years later. That, to me, is the test that has to be passed to be a good book. (The Corrections just came to mind. Can’t say I loved the book but based on my reaction to it, it’s a great book–to me.)
Jamie Wallace: This IS a loaded question and one that can only be answered in the context of defining personal preferences. I agree with Lisa that a good book has to grab you and refuse to let go. I also agree with Susan that it must have wonderful writing. That point may be debatable based on the legion fans of hugely successful books that aren’t that well written, but in those cases I would argue that it’s the story – not the writing – that deserves the credit. I also agree with Diane that a good book will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.
But, if I’m going to get down to brass tacks and define what makes a book a good book for ME, I’ll repeat the random list of attributes that I originally shared in my Weekend Edition post on book lust:
- An Element of Magical Realism Though my younger self was most interested in literary fantasy and quality SciFi, grown-up me has developed a taste for stories that are based in this world but have elements of the magical.
- An Element of Mystery Though I don’t read many books in the mystery genre, I do love a bit of mystery. Many of my favorite stories include a puzzle that needs solving – an unidentified character, an unknown origin story, a mysterious artifact.
- A Poetic Voice Though I know little of poetry proper, I love when a book includes poetic prose and/or unorthodox structure. Though some people dislike a disjointed flow, I love finding and falling into the rhythm of a unique narration style.
- A Female Protagonist Though I have loved plenty of books with male protagonists as well, I am particularly smitten with stories that tell the tale of a girl or woman. I suppose this is because I can relate to the story more easily.
- True Transformation Though I am not immune to the allure of action and comedy, my favorite stories are the ones about the evolution of a heart, a mind, or a soul. I’m a sucker for a good before and after.
- A Satisfying but Open Ending While I like closure as much as the next reader, my favorite endings also leave me with a sense of what might come after the words “The End.” It’s not so much about hoping for a sequel as it is about feeling like the story and its characters live on beyond the pages I’ve read.