What Makes a Good Book?

Okay, it’s hard to make a general statement for everyone about what makes the best book. When people heard I was writing novels, some said, “I can’t wait to read them.” Some, “Am I in it?” And some, “I hate fiction!” (I’m happy to say, one who said that last statement actually ended up liking mine. In her words, “I started reading it because you’re my friend, and I wanted to be there for you. But only a few pages in, and I was hooked.”)

I have to admit, I was really glad for her honesty, incredibly glad for her friendship, but, at that moment, even “gladder” that she wanted to keep reading!

So what DOES make you want to keep reading? For me, I know it’s a good book when I can’t put it down. A great book, when I can’t wait to find out what happens in the end.  An incredible one, when I don’t want it to end because I’ll have to say goodbye to the characters.

Some of my favorites as a kid?

  • Well, of course, there’s Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  I loved my kindred spirit, Jo, and hated bratty Amy and perfect Meg. And no matter how many times I read it, I still cried when Beth got sick.
  • And speaking of kindred spirits, Anne? Of Green Gables? (by L. M. Montgomery) One time when I was teaching, I decided to dress up like her on “Dress-like-your-favorite-book-character” Day. I’d done it once before for a speech class, and found this wonderful one-wash hair color. Dye it in the morning, wash it out with one wash at night. A perfect red-head for one day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that particular dye when I was teaching, so I found one that just took three washes. Or not. Thirty washes later, I was still a strawberry blond. Six months later, people who hadn’t seen me in a while asked, “Did you dye your hair?” One of my students even wrote her Writer’s Workshop self-published book about it. Ahhh, the things we do to make learning fun for kids! Guess it could have been worse. Anne’s hair turned green….
  • And then there was Kit in Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond.   Set in the time of early America’s witch trials, exhuberant Kit never seemed to fit in with those around her. No matter how hard she tried, she always seemed to be doing things wrong. Boy, I could relate, and I couldn’t wait to introduce that one to my own children.
  • More recently, I’m recommending every parent, teacher, principal, and reporter, read books like Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, and Draper’s Out of My Mind. Be prepared to cry with the latter!

But those are all kids’ books. What about adult fiction?

  • I think I read Dee Henderson’s entire O’Malley Series (all 6 books + prequel) in a week. (Did you hear a new one is coming out in 2013?!)
  • In my first years of marriage and motherhood, Bodie and Brock Thoene got me through many, many hours of washing dishes with their Zion Covenant and Chronicles Series. (Bookstands are wonderful things! With one of those and a towel by my side for page turns, my dishes got twice as washed because I’d get entranced with some scene.)
  • And, of course, there’re all the classics: Anything Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. Alexander Dumas, Dante, Ulysses. Recently, I read The Scarlet Pimpernel (by the Baronness Emmuska Orczy) and wished I could read more!

After that, it’d be hard to list all the books I’ve read and enjoyed!

Nonfiction? Yes, I’ve enjoyed many, although I’ve found I enjoy them more if I can mark them up with underlines and arrows and margin notes and emoticons (or whatever you call them when you’re using pen and paper.) Currently, I’m reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer. When I started reading Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something (by Ronald Dunn), I finally had to put it down to absorb all the thoughts running around in my head. I adore teaching books, especially related to learning styles: Cynthia Tobias’ The Way They Learn, Dawna Markova and Anne Powell’s How Your Child is Smart, and Rafe Esquith’s Teach like Your Hair’s on Fire. And when I’m researching for a novel or article, I get caught up in whatever books give me the information I need; currently, that’s books on Jewish culture in Bible times.

So, what makes a good book? Maybe one with words in it? No, actually, I didn’t even touch on picture books. There are some incredible ones out there! I’ll leave that for another time. But maybe the easiest way to describe a good book is one that touches you somehow. Takes you some place new. Helps you see something about yourself. Helps you see you’re not alone in the struggles that you face.

Makes me want to go curl up with a good one right now! Now, how to choose which one….




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