HOW DO YOU JUDGE A BOOK?

PoisonwoodBibleFront

I like the original cover much better

By its cover? Nix that. Now that I read most novels on my iPad, I rarely look at a book’s cover. And now that we’ve gotten that cliché out-of-the-way… I want to know, I really do want to know…

How do you judge a book?

I started thinking about this question last night/early this morning (3 a.m. to be precise). Propped up against my pillows, iPad perched in front of me, I couldn’t stop reading the chick lit novel I had downloaded based on a review in my Yoga Journal. (That’s right, Yoga Journal. Hey, I’ve even gotten some great literary tips from my car mechanic. In addition to oil change coupons, he includes a book review section in his monthly newsletter.) Anyway, I didn’t have one or two chapters left to read, I had more like six or seven. And I finished them. I couldn’t stop turning the pages…

Swiping the pages? The screen. Whatever!

undercover-reading

Pre-tablet late night reading

As I was saying, I finished the book. I closed my kindle app, clicked the home button and thought, that definitely wasn’t what I’d call a well-written book. Not even close. You name it… annoying characters, with lots of money and very little common sense. Oh, and everyone had a great body. Give me a break! Plus, there were typos. Yet, I couldn’t put it down. I just couldn’t unplug.

So, was it a success?

As a writer, I would love it if someone told me they’d been up reading my book at 3 a.m. Swipe, swipe… unable to turn off their screen. Yet, also as a writer, it bothers me how compelled I was to keep reading a book that was so far from stellar, so downright provincial, and frankly, tabloidish at best. (Tabloidish: literature that is in many ways comparable to a train wreck. i.e. you can’t look away.)

You might wonder why I bother worrying about this. It was just a book, right? Enjoy!

I worry because of all those other books. Those well-written books…books that have won major awards and high praise for literary critics…the ones that I haven’t been able to finish. The truth is, beautiful prose doesn’t always equal compelling story.

I’m not saying all stories that win awards are boring. Far from it. (Case in point, Neil 9780060530945_custom-02321c1f1acdeccf98eb4690139aac48afa02423-s6-c30Gaiman’s Newbury award-winning children’s novel, The Graveyard Book. An awesome read. Or, The Poisonwood Bible, written by Barbara Kingsolver and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Stellar in every way—except the ending, I didn’t care for that.) Nor am I suggesting that all tabloidish-type stories, such as the one that kept me up last night, should win awards.

Breathe, a novel

Yes, this might be the book I’m talking about.

What am I saying?

Right. Perhaps, all I’m saying is that a well-written story should be defined not simply by the words on the page, but by the intent of the author and how much that translates into the enjoyment or engagement it produces in the reader.

Given that definition, the book that kept me up last night was…good. Not great. But pretty darn good. And if the author’s intent was to entertain, then I’d have to say it was well-written.

Time to take a nap!

 

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8 thoughts on “HOW DO YOU JUDGE A BOOK?

  1. Lottie Nevin says:

    I’ve got to confess, sometimes I do judge a book by its cover which is sad because I may be missing some great stories. But covers and artwork aside, when reading a book, the thing that is most important to me is how it grabs my attention and how it is written. Recently I downloaded a book from Kindle, (it was free so I had nothing to lose) I was excited because it was a real-life story about a couple who’d moved to Spain and the story of how they found their house and started a new life here. By chapter 2, I was beginning to run out of steam. The minutiae about his car’s engine, lack of humour and constant repetition meant that I gave up by chapter 4. A good book you will remember forever. The characters and story will stay in your thoughts when you are waiting for a bus, or making the dinner. If it’s well written, the prose will be so delicious, that even reading a couple of lines before sleep will feed your imagination and enrich your life. A good book is like eating the most divine chocolate cake but without any of the calories! 😀

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    • Lorijo Metz says:

      I think what confused me about this book, was that the prose were not delicious, but the story was engaging. I didn’t want to like the prose, but I couldn’t help being drawn into the story. And I’ll probably remember it for some time to come. Before reading this book (the yoga book), I had started another one (a YA), which does have “delicious prose”, as well as an engaging story. As a writer, I savored the images of the YA book and reread passages simply because I was so impressed by how they flowed–yet I put the YA book aside once I started reading the yoga book and only returned to once I’d finished the yoga book. As if so happens, I finished the YA book last night. I love the prose, but it’s part 1 of a trilogy and I probably won’t go on to read any of the other books. The images were strong, but the plot was only so, so. In the end, there was a lot to learn from each writer.

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  2. Greta van der Rol says:

    You’ve touched a nerve with me. Much is written about typos, poor grammar, unbelievable events yada yada yada. And I’ll leap upon my soapbox with the rest and denounce all that poor workmanship – and work hard to avoid it in my own stuff.

    And yet.

    If a writer can grab me with a story enough to keep me up until the wee small hours, despite grammar glitches and consistently poor word choices (hangar/hanger) then all I can say is – I wish I could come up with a story like that. I truly, truly do. As you say, a story like that can be tweaked and polished. A boring story will never be anything else, despite the sparkling grammar.

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    • Lorijo Metz says:

      As they say… truer words were never spoken (well, typed). I totally agree with you. I just finished a book filled with beautiful prose, which I found myself constantly skimming over just to get back to the storyline.

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