What Makes a Good Book?

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

There’s nothing like a good book. But what makes it good? That’s a little more personal.

When people heard I wrote novels?

Some said, “I can’t wait to read them.”
Others, “Am I in it?”
And even one, “I hate fiction!”

I’m happy to say that last person 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 glad for her honesty, more glad for her friendship, but, at that moment, “mostest” glad that she wanted to keep reading!

So what DOES make you want to keep reading?

For me, 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 read-it-again-and-again favorites as a kid?

  • Well, of course, there’s Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  I loved my kindred spirit Jo, hated bratty Amy and perfect Meg. And no matter how many times I read it, I still cried when Beth got sick.
  • Speaking of kindred spirits, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne. Of Green Gables. (*school-girl sigh*) Her passion for tales that take over thoughts and space and time. And her bumbling mistakes
    Funny story—When I student-taught, I decided to dress up as her on “Dress-like-Your-Favorite-Book-Character” Day. After all, I’d done it once before for a speech class: Found this wonderful one-wash hair color. Dyed it in the morning, washed it out at night. A perfect red-head for one day. Easy-peasy.
    Unfortunately, for the repeat, I couldn’t find that particular one-wash dye again. Instead I found one that just took three washes.
    Or at least that’s what it claimed.
    Thirty washes later, I was still 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 created 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 turns green….
  • Then there was Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Living in the midst of early America’s witch trials, exhuberant Kit never fit in. No matter how hard she tried, she always seemed to be doing things wrong. Boy, could I relate. I couldn’t wait to introduce that one to my own children.
  • And—okay, I read these as an adult, but—I recommend every parent, teacher, principal, reporter, and anyone else who knows English read books like Avi’s Nothing But the Truth and Draper’s Out of My Mind. Be prepared to cry with the latter!

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. And when I found out she was adding one more to the set? I inked the launch date on my calendar.
  • In my first years of marriage and motherhood, Bodie and Brock Thoene’s Zion Covenant and Chronicles Series entertained me through many hours of washing dishes. (Bookstands are wonderful inventions! 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 are all the classics: Anything Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. Alexander Dumas, Dante, Ulysses. When I read The Scarlet Pimpernel (by the Baronness Emmuska Orczy), I went searching for more—and happily found a whole series.

Beyond that, it would be hard to list all the fiction I’ve savored.

Nonfiction? Yes, I’ve enjoyed many, although I relish them more if I can mark them up with underlines and arrows and margin notes and emojis.

  • Currently, I’m reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer.
  • When I started Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something (by Ronald Dunn), I finally had to put it down to absorb all the thoughts romping 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.
  • When I’m researching for a novel or article, I get caught up in whatever books give me the information I need. Currently, that means books on Jewish culture in Bible times.
  • And speaking of the Bible, it’s the best-selling book for a reason, filled with history, poetry, narratives, romance, suspense. If you haven’t read it, try starting in the book of Luke. It’s one of four books in the Bible that tell of Jesus’ life here on earth. You’ll find it about three-quarters of the way through the Bible. Or just look it up in the table of contents. If you’re more in need of comfort than story right now, try the book of Psalms, smack dab in the middle of the Bible. Then contact me if you come to understand the verse, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Ps. 119:105, NASB.

So, what makes a good book? Maybe one with words in it? *wink* Although, I didn’t even touch on picture books. Wow, are there some incredible ones, even wordless ones. They’re my new favorite gift. A great topic for another post.

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.

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

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