Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What Makes a Good Book?

When reviewing books, the bottom line is making a determination about whether the book is "good" or not. A reviewer may talk about vivid adjectives, realistic (or unrealistic) plots, those that move at a brisk pace, or those that plod. The author may be described as a wordsmith, brilliant or amature. Moral content of a story may be called "preachy" or "well integrated". However, generally, unless the reviewer is very creative, by the end of the review the reader knows whether the reviewer liked the book--which is one of the reasons most of us read book reviews. We find someone whose opinion we usually share and start to share their titles.

Last week I reviewed two books by Cecelia Dowdy. As I noted in the reviews, they were the Christian version of Harlequin Romances. I generally like romance novels, but I generally prefer the longer version. Those 170 page books are too limited in size to allow a lot of character development, sub-plots or anything other than a pretty basic story with rather stock characters. Had I realized that was what those books were, I probably would not have requested them. That being said, since I requested them I read them. I was thinking of posting a review detailing what I saw as shortcomings in the books when it struck me that my comments were really applicable to the genre; so was it fair to criticise the books for being what they are? I decided instead to talk about restaurants in my review. I pointed out that both the most famous four star restaurant in town and McDonalds have their market niche and that to criticise one for not being the other isn't really fair. Dowdy read my review, and it must not have bothered her too much because she linked to it from her blog. Some of her readers did object to my review.

Questions: What makes a good book? If I like it, is that enough? If it meets the usual standard of its genere, does that make it "good" or do I evaluate those short formula romances by the same standard I would use to judge a longer work? Should someone hostile to Christian beliefs be able to read Christian fiction without feeling preached at, or is overt religous expression an important part of that genre?

1 comment:

  1. I think a good book is one that engages the reader in a realistic way. I personally do not enjoy reading a book that is making me want to put it down. I think this is why the Mystical City of God is such a good read. It gives the reader a modern and insightful view of Catholic history. The book is "lighter" on the eyes than let's say the bible, which is a very heavy read with an older style of verbiage. Needless to say quite frankly, I would be much more apt to spend time with the Mystical City of God on vacation than I would the Bible.


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