Settling in with a bad book?

Today’s post is inspired by two things: the #writestuff live Twitter chat from this Tuesday and the discussion on yesterday’s post.

Tuesday night’s discussion was about the difference between a good book and an enjoyable one.  Yesterday, I wrote about my dislike for Christian fiction as a genre, mainly because it usually seems to me to be “not good.”  So today I thought I would explore that further.  What makes a book “good” or “not good”?  Is it entirely subjective?

This is a tough question.  I’ve struggled for many years to define what, for me, makes a book “good.”  There seems to be this idea that a book can be objectively “good” even if we don’t personally enjoy it.  But what about books that are considered classics, yet fairly universally hated?  Are they still good?  What about books that are widely popular, but poorly written?

I have to admit, I struggle with boredom when I read.  I want to read things that are faster-paced.  So for me, a good book is one in which there is very little unimportant information.  I also prefer books in which there is at least one character to whom I can relate.  If I dislike everyone, I won’t want to read the book.  Writing style makes a difference as well.  I recently read a story with good pacing, great characters, and an interesting plot.  The problem is that the writer’s style was distracting.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just grated on my nerves.

I don’t necessarily need to enjoy a book to recognize it as good.  I had an interesting discussion recently in which I was explaining why I didn’t like Steinbeck’s The Pearl.  On reflection, I realized that it is actually a very, very good book.  For one thing, I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t stop.  I was sort of horrified, but at the same time, I was fascinated.  For another, the book has stuck with me for over twenty years.  I can recall most of it in vivid detail.  And when I went back over the themes, I realized how complex they were.  I came to a new and deeper appreciation for a book that has bothered me for many years.  I think it might be worthwhile to go back and read it again, with this new understanding.

On the other hand, I can read a book and enjoy it with the full understanding that it is not, in fact, a good book.  I enjoyed the escapism of the Twilight series, for example.  But I realize that the writing is sub-par, the plot is thin, and there are numerous problems with the characters.  I think that objectively, the books are probably not “good.”  But that doesn’t prevent me from having a bit of fun.

So tell me, what do you think makes a book good?



One thought on “Settling in with a bad book?

  1. Years ago I endured a Philosophy of Art class. In the class we discussed a similar topic, what is “art” and what makes it good or bad. The class really didn’t help me define what is good art or what makes it bad. I think the truth is the same for the discussion of good or bad books. A large percentage of what makes it good or bad is subjective. There are certain things that I like to have as part of a good story – interesting characters, plot, and conclusion. Sometimes you can have all those elements and the story still suck. Personal preference doesn’t make a book “good” for everyone, just for that particular person.

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