Monday, July 27, 2009

What makes a book good?

Recently I started reading a book called "I Do (but I don't)" by Cara Lockwood.  The narrative flowed easily and before I knew it, I had read the first few chapters.  The story was simple, a wedding planner who can't find love, (gotta love the irony) and entertaining as well, or so I thought.

I Do but I Don't

Around the time I broke through the first hundred pages, I started to get annoyed.  The main character was quickly becoming an idiot!  She meets and starts to fall for a gorgeous fireman.  Then she finds out he's the groom in the big, rush wedding she's in the process of planning.  Or so she thinks.

(Spoiler alert)  It becomes painfully obvious that he is not in fact the groom, but instead only a groomsman.  Still the main character goes on and on about feeling torn for having feelings for a man who is clearly taken.  The more I read, the more I got really irritated.  The author just made her seem really (for lack of a better word) dumb.  Then I got annoyed because the author thought she was being clever thinking the readers wouldn't figure out what was really going on.  Honestly I'm not sure what happened because I stopped reading it. 

I don't often stop a reading a book I've invested myself in for over a hundred pages.  I usually tough it out.  I mean obviously there was something good about it, or I wouldn't have gotten a quarter of the way through it; but this time I just couldn't finish it. 

Then I got thinking, what makes a book good?  Is it the cast of characters?  Does there have to be both a stellar protagonist and a solid supporting cast around them?  Can you have one without the other and still consider it a good book? 

Maybe the characters are secondary to the actual story.  A seamlessly intertwined plot and climax that catches you in their grip from beginning to end, can make you forget about a lot of the other things going on in the book.

What about the foundation?  Does the setting make a difference?  If you have great characters and a decent plot, does it really matter where it takes place?

Then, there's the voice of the author?  The attitude or feeling that comes through with each word sucking you into their world until the last page is turned can definitely be a powerful tool in creating a good book.

In my experience the best books are usually those that incorporate all of these elements, and yet there are always exceptions.  "My Sister's Keeper" was one of the best books I've ever read.  Now let me just add here, that in my life I've read a lot of books.  If someone asked me what was my favorite, I'd have a hard time coming up with an answer.   I enjoyed so many on an equal level.  "My Sister's Keeper" was the first book I'd read in years that left a significant mark on me.  The emotional impact I felt from it was tremendous.  So much so, that I have recommended it to friends, family, and anyone else I come across who likes to read.  I have never recommended a book as much as this one. 

My Sister's Keeper

The funny thing is that the characters annoyed the crap out of me!  Each character at one time or another made me want to cause them bodily harm.  Also, at times the story made me crazy with anger and outrage.  Regardless of these issues, I couldn't put it down. 

So really, what makes a good book?   Actually, it's almost  sort of a mystery.  There are some books that have all of the elements present to make it good, but somehow it just falls short.  Then there are others that seem to be missing pieces and end up being some of our favorites.  I guess it comes down to how you put all together.  When put together well, characteristics that we would otherwise deem not-so-great, can make a book that you will remember for a lifetime. 

That's my take on what makes a good book, what's yours?

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