What makes a book good

January 10, 2006 | 2 books mentioned

Following her post about her favorite books she read last year, Laurie sent me another e-mail about her criteria for what makes a book good. It’s a great list and I thought I’d share it.

Trying to figure out what I liked best got me thinking about what my criteria were. Just “I liked it a lot” didn’t cut it, because I liked a lot of stuff and it became hard to prioritize. So here’s my tentative criteria for choosing a “year’s best” (other readers will likely think of other criteria). Anything that scores 4 or more from these criteria probably makes it into my “year’s best”:

The book was:

  1. Hard to put down.
  2. Quotable.
  3. Fast, fun to read (not a slogging chore).
  4. Compelling

Also I:

  1. Kept reading bits out loud to anyone who’d listen.
  2. Will likely reread it.
  3. Can recommend it to a lot of people.

And it:

  1. Elicits a strong gut reaction (laughter, tears, shivers, outrage, etc.)
  2. Makes you think.
  3. Sticks with you long after it’s done (you keep
    recalling parts of it months after you’ve read it, or you keep mentioning it to people in the course of conversation).

By this set of criteria, Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala scored a 4 (checks next to criteria #4, 8, 9 and 10) whereas Knee Deep in Blazing Snow by James Hayford scored a whopping 5 points because I could put a check next to items #2, 3, 5, 6 and 7. But that’s just me. Maybe after a year of horror and complexity in the news and literature, I was just ready for simple, happy observations about goats and weather.

Thanks again, Laurie!

is a publicity assistant for a large Southern university.

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