What makes a good book?

20 Oct

I think there are as many definitions for this as there are readers… and writers:

I agree with Oscar Wilde above. I think a good book is one that changes with you, not one that you grow out of. One of these for me has definately been the Little Prince by Antoine De Saint Exupéry. As a child I enjoyed the mystery of the Prince, the boas and wild planets and Bonsai trees and definately chuckled at the mockery of adults, and now that I’m older I notice: I still enjoy all of the above, and can never get enough of the wisdom behind them.

Maybe a good book, then, isn’t one that just changes with you but also one that changes within you. One that gives you lines which you can twist into new thoughts in your head, endlessly, and into new stories. Maybe the best stories are the ones that don’t finish when we finish the book but live on, to be finished by us in our own time.

But I also think that, while there are those books that we return to over and over again, sometimes what defines a good book is simply giving it a second chance. I know there are many who would beg to disagree with this, arguing that good writing makes the book good straight away, on the first read. But I think that, above all, what makes a good book is that the good writing doesn’t just sit there, between the covers, but that it is experienced. That it reaches the reader. Or more crucially, that the reader reaches for the writing themselves.

I realised this recently while I was waiting on some books I had asked to be ordered in to our library. Impatient, I grabbed few books from my shelf that I had already read but weirdly, not properly formed an opinion about. They were The Great Gatsby and The Bell Jar.  Both of them had remained totally ambiguous in my head the first time round, but now that I picked them up the second time they transformed from sort of good into amazing. But the books hadn’t changed, the dots hadn’t danced around and the words hadn’t been swopped while they rested on my bookshelf. I had changed, as a reader.

So I think, what is needed to make a good book is both a devoted writer and an open-minded reader.

And an advice I have found helpful, when I’m struggling to write because my heavy expectations on myself weigh me down, is this: To write something good, you first have to write something.

What do you think makes a good book? What books do you think are good or even, the best?


5 Responses to “What makes a good book?”

  1. E October 20, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    i think i have to agree with you. a good book can be read and re-read. many of the quotes you have up there are ones i enjoy as well. sometimes, like you, i don’t know what to think of some books, but after a while i give them another try and i realize i like them better now! so even if i don’t like something, i give a second chance, just in case. it’s good when books help me grow and have a wider perspective too. it’s something i strive for when i write 🙂

  2. daydreamdaisies October 20, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    That’s an interesting point about growth; that books don’t just grow with us but make us grow too, very true. Books really are little miracles!
    Thanks for taking time to comment, lovely to read your thoughts. : )

    • E October 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

      yes indeed they are! delicious little miracles too 🙂

  3. ruleofstupid October 20, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    what is needed to make a good book is both a devoted writer and an open-minded reader – Absolutely true 😉
    We used to laugh that I liked ‘boy’ books, my wife ‘girl’ books. Then we lived through some pretty dreadful times and I found my taste much altered. Books require empathy which requires experience. So now I enjoy ‘girl’ books too, while I’ve converted her to Kung-Fu movies (well, it’s a step!)

  4. MishaBurnett October 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    For me it’s characters. I see rereading a book like visiting an old friend. I would reply to the Salinger quote above by saying, “No, when I read a good book I wish the character was a real person that I could call up and invite over for dinner.”

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