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Monday, April 5, 2010

Thoughts on Good Books

Blogger Enna Isilee just posted about reading.  She asks, "are all books created equal?  What does it take to make you put down a book?"  I've got a few things to say about books...

"Good Books"
In my Children's Literature Class (one of my favorite college courses, prof. Jim Jacobs) I learned that there are two things that make a book "good" to a person. First, Emotional Response (if I LOVE horses, I will read even a crummy book about horses and love it! If I had a bad experience at boarding school, I don't want to read about fictional fun times there.)  Second, Quality Of Writing (Is the book well crafted? Are the words well chosen?  Are the ideas clear? Does the narrator have voice? Does the story drag or jump? Are readers bored or confused? Is it properly edited? etc.). There are many different examples of how these two factors can come together, but when people say a book was good, they're talking about one or both of these things.


Picking up a book
Now, a word about book recommendations; or, "Hey, try this book!"  Say you loved a book.  Great!  Before you recommend it, you're going to have to figure out why you liked it so much.  Was it purely emotional response?  Or was there some high quality writing involved, too?  Which parts of the writing were best?

If the book is a nice story about ballerinas, recommend it to ballerina fans.  If the book is an exquisitely written, well paced, ballerina book, maybe even those who are on the fence about ballerinas will like it too.  The better the Quality of Writing, the better the chances are that more people will like a book.  If someone has a strong negative emotional response (read: hates all ballerinas) they're not going to like it no matter how well it's written.

Putting down a book
Personally, I stop reading a book when I feel like it. Usually, if the book is well written (good Quality of Writing) I come back another time when my Emotional Response is better (when I'm more "in the mood" for it). For example, I'm just picking up The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner again.  I've heard so many good things about it and the series that follows -- but when I tried it out several months back I wasn't jiving with it.  Same story with Octavian Nothing.  Now, If the book is poorly written (plot holes, flat characters, etc) or if I have a strong negative emotional response, I usually don't bother picking it up again. There are SO MANY good books out there.

Does this make me a quitter?  Abandoning a book does not make a person a quitter. It is good and right and proper and needful that we select carefully what we read and use our time wisely.

2 comments:

  1. You're so right! Great post and response.

    I don't think we're quitters either, I just think we're good time managers.

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  2. Great post Alysa. The Thief was one that I put down and came back to later and enjoyed more. But only after I got through some parts that I didn't love.

    I do have to have an emotional connection to a book to really love it. That's why books like The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime or Marcello in the Real World don't appeal to me: the main characters/narrators feel no emotion. So how is the reader expected to? Hhhmm...

    My favorite books always have both qualities: the emotional depth and beautiful writing.

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