What is a Good

Book?

How Does One Know A Good Book?

To me…

a good book is much like a good sandwich:

it stirs up a sensation

it’s fresh, it’s savory

it’s soft in places, crunchy in places

but all the ingredients stay together, work together

it ends with you wanting more 

you remember it for a long time afterwards

most importantly, it becomes a part of you

A good book changes something about you: maybe your perspective, maybe your understanding, maybe your character.

 

Notice that I don’t consider ‘enjoyable’ and ‘entertaining’ being requirements of a good book.  I am certain that all of us have read books which were not of an entertaining or enjoyable subject but were good books none the less.

 

Measuring A Good Book

 

I must start off by saying that not all good books are equal. 

Some can be read in one sitting.

Some take weeks to read.

Some make us laugh, or cry, or smile. Some stir up deep thoughts, disturbing emotions. 

Some are made-up stories, some are true stories, some are a mix.

Some are poetic, some are in old English, some are in ‘mountain vernacular’.

 

Can one measuring stick be used to rate such an unequal assortment of writings?

Yes

As I read a story or poem, I experience it into myself (does it connect with me?) and I examine how it is spun (how does the author tell the story?). 

Returning to the sandwich analogy, I not only experience the taste of the sandwich (book) as a whole, I examine which ingredients are used and how they are placed to bring about the goodness of the sandwich.

I examine these five ingredients in a book:

  1. Did the storyline (plot, theme, idea, subject) pick me up and carry me like a current of a river?  Did it sweep me along, captivating me, sometimes spinning me, sometimes surprising me?

  2. Was the ambience of the story (the surroundings, the scenery, the setting) well pictured, understandable, fitting?

  3. Are the characters (or poetic object, view) believable, relatable, interesting, memorable?

  4. Is the wording or the style of writing, pleasant, appropriate, stimulating, attractive?

  5. Did the story end well, with a lasting impression but with no loose ends or lost ends, no duds, no bitter taste?

 

I tempered these five measures somewhat if the book is a historical writing or a children’s story.

 

How I Rate A Book

 

I rate a book probably not much differently than how everyone else does:  1 is dreadful, 3 is acceptable, 5 is exceptional.

I rate each book separately, on its own merit, and not in comparison to any other book.

I rate each book AFTER I finish reading it.

Ratings of 3-5 divide out this way: a 3 leaves me satisfied.  4 & 5 leave me wanting more. 5 transcends me to another level.

If a book is so awful or depraved that I decide not to finish it, I rate it as a zero.  If I make it through a book, it at least gets a ‘1’.

 

Here is my rating scheme:

1 – This book was rough to plow through.  I might have skipped through some of it.  It did have some good spots, I think, but it’s now in the yard sale box.

2 – Part of me sort of liked this book, it caught me up in its current a few times and, for the most part, kept my interest but I’ll never re-read it.  It’ll go into the yard sale box.

3 – This is an OK book; I was left satisfied.  It had its dull moments, its faults, its dry spots, but the current of the book was sufficient to carry me through them. You may like it better than I did. This book stays on my shelf, for now.

4 – This is a good book; I want more. It was well told and it connected with me. I will be telling friends and family about this book.  It had some spots which were not to my tastes, but those were momentary, of no real consequence.

5 – Superb book. Wow.  I just read from a master writer who touched the real me. I became emotionally or mentally entwined into this book. If there were faults I can’t remember them.  I must have more.  I really need to read this book again.

 

 

Notice how I don’t directly rate the emotional response (laughing, crying, sighing, smiling, screaming) of a book.  It’s because not all good books are equal in their ability, or intension, to create an emotional response.