Just like every person is different, every reader will have a different idea of what exactly makes a good book. Maybe you are the kind of person that really enjoys curling up with a glass of chardonnay and a good old Nora Roberts romance. Maybe you like to turn off all of the lights, set flame to a few candles, and read Dean Koontz’s latest thriller on your e-reader while soaking in the tub. Then again, perhaps you are a busy mom whose only time to read is between sessions of chasing your child at the park and you grab whatever book is handy to escape for a few minutes.
Whatever your preference, the fact is that we all have one. Sure, most of us read multiple genres. For instance I love a good historical fiction such as Victoria by Daisy Goodwin as well as a more science fiction fare like Golden Son by Pierce Brown. However, there are certain elements or concepts we generally look for in our typical reads. Today I’d like to explore with you what makes a good book to me.
Single or Dual Person Focus
I am the kind of person that hates books that are told from multiple points of view. I’m not talking about first person/third person but instead focusing on a different character every chapter. When I read a book, I want the heart of the story to be seen from no more than two character’s story lines. Any more than that it starts to feel disjointed to me. I can’t focus on what is supposed to be going on if I’m jumping around trying to see everything from too many eyes.
I encountered this most recently in the book Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones. This book could very well have been brilliant but I spent so much time trying to piece together the entire plot in my mind from so many character’s experiences that the enjoyment was lost for me. Sure, this form of writing doesn’t bother everyone but for me, I need a book to be told (generally) from no more than two points of view.
In the past I have been very upfront about my dislike of straight up romance. From time to time I do read it but it is not something I typically seek out. For me, I see it more as a mental pallet cleanser when I get mentally overloaded, like how you smell coffee beans between smelling candles to keep the two scents clear in your mind.
If I am picking up, say, a fantasy novel (which ranks high on my reading preferences), I don’t want to bulk of the story to be about love and affection. If it is I will nine times out of ten not finish it. I don’t mind a bit of a love story or a sex scene that makes sense in the general plot, but to have it be a main plot point is a major negative for me.
This one might seem a little odd, but stay with me. It is nearly impossible to have a book with multiple characters and not have dialogue. In fact, it is highly encouraged! It allows you to better know the characters, moves the plot along, conveys feelings, and so many other important things. What gives me pause is when a book is mainly dialogue.
Recently I read Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare which, it seems to me, is highly regarded in the bookish community. I absolutely hated it. Why? The bulk of the book was dialogue. No characters ever stopped talking long enough for anything to actually happen. I realize that for many people the overload of conversation isn’t a problem but it is something that I just can’t stand. When I am reading, I want the writer to show me what is happening, not consistently tell me. It feels like a cheap cop out.
A big topic right now in literature, society, politics, and pretty much anywhere are rights. The rights of the LGBT+ community, the rights of the multi-racial, the rights of the genders etc etc. Speaking strictly from a literary point of view, we want everyone from all walks of life to play a part in what we read and as more than just a background part. I am 110% on board with that. However…
What I’ve been seeing often in new releases is this concept being handled poorly. The example that stands out most in my mind is A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas. While most of you have read this book, for those of you who haven’t, now would be a good time to scroll down to the next section because of a spoiler.
Mor is presented in this book as an LGBT+ character which is great because Maas is known for not including alternate sexualities or races outside of white and straight in her writing. My problem is that Mor’s confession is handled poorly. Just the fact that it has to be labeled as a confession shows that it was mishandled. It felt awkward and forced like Maas was only trying to include Mor’s sexuality to appeal to more readers and not because it actually made sense for the character.
By all means, give us more characters in a major roll that are LGBT+, black, Hispanic, Asian, or disabled but do it in a way that does those communities justice. Don’t make them a footnote and don’t force it.
I know that what appeals most to me will not appeal to everyone and that is wonderful. We as readers and simply as people are diverse and unique human beings and we all have our own likes and dislikes. I’d love to hear from you about what ideas, concepts, or themes you care most about in literature.