What Makes a Good Book to You?
This is a question I wonder about whenever I read book reviews. It never ceases to fascinate me that one person could love a book so much while another person thinks it was absolute rubbish. Some of the most polarizing books I’ve known in my lifetime include Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, and Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage. I’ve read the latter two and I liked Ghana Must Go, but thought An American Marriage was OK.
What Some People Say
Over the last two years, I ran a bookish interview series (many interviews of which aren’t on this site right now, but will be reuploaded in time). One of the questions I asked was this: What makes a good book to you? These were some of the answers:
I think a book is good when I can feel it. It’s a book with compelling messy characters, an emotionally-true story that sweeps over me, writing that makes me sigh or smile or swear in envy… But a really good book for me is one that makes me want to pause/suspend reality to continue it. – ‘Pemi Aguda
For fiction, I’d say a compelling story with believable, complex characters that I feel emotionally connected to. Sentence-level beauty is important to me as well. – Author Crystal Hana Kim
Personally, I think it depends on what kind of book it is and what it’s trying to achieve. Is it the next great American novel, or is it an escapist fairy tale that gives me a break from everyday life? Of course, there are fundamental principles that all books should include—storytelling, plot, prose, etc.—but I don’t think there’s a set-in-stone group of exact criteria for any given book. Different books achieve different things. That’s one thing I love about literature. – Kendra Winchester of Reading Women
What’s a Good Book to Me?
My definition of a good book is closest to Kendra’s. There are different kinds of “good books.” But ultimately, I demand one main thing of the books I read: hold me captive. But again, captivity styles differ. Some books are meant to be slowly savored, so even if you read them over the course of a month, as long as you finished, they held you captive. It would, of course, be sad for a “thriller” to take me one month to read. I’m a quick reader and can easily finish most books within a week as long as I have the time. Thrillers should be one or two sittings for me (if there’s time), otherwise, they’re dragging.
But that’s just one metric.
Should All Good Books Be “Life-Changing”?
Some people judge books to be good only if they’re life-changing, perspective-shifting, or mind-blowing. I disagree. Unfortunately “rating” systems do not specify, there are several kinds of five-star books. There’s five-star literary fiction, five-star middle-grade, five-star “women’s fiction,” and the like. I’d never hold all those categories to the same standard.
There’s also the emotional component; the heart of the story.
Some books are so emotionally moving that they distract you from the “logistics” of the work. It may be a swoony soaring romance with seriously problematic characters. Or an exciting middle-grade book that allows it’s protagonist to sidestep the consequences of bad behavior. As much as I love emotions, if I finish a book and feel unsettled about any issues, it affects my rating and review.
📖 🎧 Does the Format Matter?
If you enjoy audiobooks, you may have noticed that not every good book is a good audiobook. Can a book’s format really affect your definition of a good book? Totally.
Listen to the wrong book on audio and it could be the most annoying thing ever. Similarly, a book that seems convoluted and hard to read might just come alive with the right audiobook narrator. So, sometimes when I recognize that a book would be better read, I try to take that into consideration in my review. I also urge other readers to try (what I think is) the better format.What makes a good book? Should all good books be lifechanging? Should all books be held to the same rating standards? Does the format matter? Here's what I think. Click To Tweet
What Makes a Good Book? It’s Really Subjective
Ultimately, a good book often depends on the reader. Books strike us differently because of our values, where we are in life, our moods, the format we’re consuming, and a host of other factors. Does this mean there are no bad books? I’d disagree on this one. Some books are shockingly bad, but the good ones vastly outweigh the bad. 😉
Knowing how subjective tastes and opinions are, it pays to be more thoughtful in the way we process art, especially if we review for a massive audience. It helps to say exactly what we liked and what we didn’t. That way, we can spare each other a bad (for us) book and guide another person to one that’s just right!
I’d love to know what you think though: what makes a good book to YOU? Do you have any specific turn-offs? Are there any good-book “must-haves” for you? Let’s talk! 💬