As you can probably tell from the title, my post this month will be looking at the idea of what qualifies as a ‘good’ book.
When I ask myself this question, I cannot help but think of Alan Bennett’s words in his play ‘The History Boys’. He writes that, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” I absolutely love this idea and I’m still looking for something that can summarise the feeling in a better way, which perhaps is not possible!
However, I cannot help feeling that this quote may be a bit vague in terms of this discussion. So, I decided to look elsewhere for some ideas. After some quick Google searches, I came across ideas such as a good book makes you learn something, should contain characters that you care about or have a profound message that all readers can relate to.
In addition, Milton wrote that ‘A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit.’ This idea equally touches on many truths, being that successful literature will continue to be read throughout time and contains a powerful, divine message.
These opinions may be true on some levels, but is the main source of a ‘good’ book really all these things, or is it something more or less, sorry to sound rude, but, pretentious?
Could it be that a ‘good’ book simply makes you laugh, cry or is just something that you use to balance a cup of tea on because you can’t find a coaster?
After all, we’ve often read books as children and enjoyed them no less than we enjoy reading books now, yet why is it that as we start to get a little older, ‘The Famous Five’ or ‘The Hobbit’ just don’t seem to have that same appeal? Don’t get me wrong though, I am still a huge lover of both of these books. I will also, on occasion, bring out an old copy of the ‘Peter Rabbit’ series on a rainy day, to revoke all the old memories that they once gave me.
Still, why is it that the books that we once thought were the most touching of all, turn out to be much less engaging after we read them a few years later? Of course, our tastes are always changing and new crazes appear. But really, what is it that makes us decide that ‘Yes, ‘The Hunger Games – Catching Fire’ is undoubtedly the greatest novel of our generation.’ Or ‘What do you mean ‘Wuthering Heights’ just ‘wasn’t all that’?!’
I am still trying to figure this out and maybe there is no simple answer.
As a fairly young and inexperienced reader myself, I am by no means writing this post as a means of telling people that only one view matters. Of course reading is a very personal and individual activity, much like listening to music, choosing what clothes you wear or even in some ways, what food you choose to eat. Our definitions of what makes a successful piece of writing will of course be different.
So, I merely write this in the hope that it will provoke some discussion. I would love to hear what other people have to say about ‘What makes a good book?’ So please feel free to leave something below, whether you think that Allan Bennett has got it all wrong or that you also share the same guilty pleasure for Enid Blyton – even though you feel that you probably shouldn’t.