Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What makes a book good?

There are three things that I like to think about:

1. How I feel about it as I'm reading it. Is it engrossing, interesting, compelling? When I'm not reading it, am I thinking about it? Does it intrude on my day, willing me to get back to it, to find out what is going on in the lives of these characters? Or is it gray, forgettable, average? If I'm not fairly compelled to keep reading after 50 pages, I put it down. Life is too short. There are too many wonderful books out there waiting to be picked up!

2. How I feel about it when I've finished reading it. Am I moved? Has my world view shifted or changed in some slight or profound way? Has my mind been stretched? Have I laughed, cried, maybe both? Am I sorry to say good-bye to the characters? Am I anxiously hoping for a sequel? Do I feel that nothing more needs to be said, the ending was so perfect and right? Or am I turning the last page, feeling the story is incomplete, wondering what the point was, or feeling irritated that I was served up the same old unsurprising thing?

3. How I feel about it after the passage of time. Has the book stayed with me, left a lasting impression? Has it shaded the way I view things? Has it altered the way I think in some way? Has it opened my eyes to new possibilities, books, authors subjects? Has it given me a lot to talk about with other people? Has it led me to new discoveries? Or has it dropped so completely from my radar that I'm hard pressed to say what it was even about? This last criterion is, I believe, the true test of the value of a book. Often a book will be enjoyable as I'm reading it, I'll feel satisfied once I've finished it, yet after a year (or less), I will barely remember it. Or something I don't seem to be enjoying very much at the time will stay in my mind and speak to me for years after I've read it. Funny how that works. The books that meet all three of these criteria are ones I turn to time and time again, and I love to re-read them.

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