Friday, May 16, 2014

What Makes a Book "Good"

How many times have you finished a book, closed it, and said, "That was a good book."

Why did you say that? In what way was the book "good?"

My questions stem from a group discussion in a friend's living room this past week. This is a monthly book club that has been in existence about 40 years. I've only been a member about 25 of those years, and intermittent at best. This particular discussion made me think and re-think my ideas about "a good book."

The novel was about the wife of a real person in American history. Since it's fiction, we had a difficult time separating truth from fiction, and especially since we didn't know the full truth of the man's life in the public eye.

More than one member said, "I didn't like the book."
"It was depressing and he really was a cruel person."
 All right. But what about the story and how it was written? The member maintained her stance--"I didn't like the characters."

A few others agreed, and a couple said he was horrible to treat his wife the way he did.

I thought it was a "good book" and I was not the only one.
The story fascinated me, whether it was truthful or not. Even though it was depressing, I still maintain it was a good book.

The author is young, but she wrote a very good story. The book is published by one of the big publishers, hardback, etc., great cover, and not so long that it tired me to finish.

So, what does make a book good? Here are a few ideas:
The book is Good...
--If it has a satisfying ending--not particularly happy.
--If the hero is a good man and does the right thing in the end.
--If I can't put it down.
--If I learned something new.
--If the story is compelling.
--If I don't take anything personally.
--If it has nothing offensive, or at least very little.
--If there's an element of mystery that surprises me.

None of these ideas stand alone. We might make several statements to support our belief.

I've read novels with titles such as: Cutting for Stone; Germs, Guns, and Steel--the Downfall of Human Societies; Voices from the Dust Bowl Years; and came away saying, these were good books.
I've read romance novellas that were only 100 pages with titles such as The Cowboy and the Scarlet Woman, (I made that up, but you get the idea) and came away saying, this was a good book.

On the flip side, here's a list that makes me say, "This was not a good book."
--Poor passive writing--even if the plot might be good.
--Far too much narrative, page after page after page, that does not allow me to use my imagination. (I just finished one like this and wouldn't review it because it was so bad.)
--No emotion, flat dry drivel for conversations.
--Characters, both male and female, who were TSTL.
--Stiff dialogue with the characters doing nothing as real people might when they talk. He said, she said.
--Written in short choppy sentences.
--Written in long sentences with multiple ideas in one.

What element of a book makes it good in your opinion. What in particular do you look for? What just makes you grind your teeth in frustration?

Want to know the title of the book?
The Aviator's Wife. The story of Anne Morrow Lindberg.
By Melanie Benjamin

Thanks for visiting.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas