By Bonnie Stanard
Much of my reading is to research background for a story I’m writing so I joined a local book club to force myself into reading current fiction. It comes as no surprise that my taste in books is often at odds with that of many of the members. This is a rambling way to get to the point that the definition of a good book is as varied as there are people who read.
My husband would probably say a good book is one that keeps him guessing about “who done it” until the last page. My friend Miriam, who loves Harry Potter, might say a good book is one that sweeps her away to a world of suspense and wonder.
MY FAVORITE GENRES
The variety of tastes can be somewhat organized by genres: sci-fi, romance, mystery, fantasy, etc. Wikipedia lists as many as 24 common fiction genres. From this list, I find two that I’d put at the top of my list—Historical Fiction and Realistic Fiction. However, this doesn’t mean I only like books that fall into these categories. (I loved Bridget Jones Diary.)
SOARING PAST THE TITLE PAGE
A good book is first of all entertaining. So what is entertaining? I can only answer from my perspective. With that caveat, I like strong, unpredictable characters. Good guys often sabotage a good plot, for seldom are they unpredictable. An exception to this is the nice guy in the novel Empire Falls by Richard Russo. From a writer’s perspective, I find it far more difficult to create an engaging story with an ordinary protagonist. Toibin’s Brooklyn seems a pedestrian tale, but it’s told with such grace and affection I couldn’t put it down.
If you Google popular novels, you may notice that many protagonists depend on abuse, illness, accidents, political oppression, drugs, or other crutches to gain our interest. Remove these issues and you’ll get a better idea of the strength of the writing.
IS IT FUN BUT A WASTE OF TIME?
A good book provides information about unfamiliar places or sheds light on human character. There are so many entertaining books that open our eyes to planet earth and our human condition, why spend time with those that reflect what we already know? Here is a sampling of books that have changed the way I think: Constellations of Vital Phenomena by A. Marra; The English Patient by Ondaatie; The Known World by E. Jones; Memoirs of a Geisha by A. Golden; Middlesex by J. Eugenides; Palace Walk by N. Mahfouz; Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow; Shogun by J. Clavell: and Watership Down by Richard Adams.
DOES THE AUTHOR KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EFFECT AND AFFECT?
I stop reading a novel upon encountering errors in word usage or grammar. However, I like books that send me to a dictionary occasionally to look up a definition. Complex sentences are fine as long as they aren’t as long as those of William Faulkner. “Simplistic” as a deliberate writing style can be entertaining, but not when done by a simpleton.