Sunday Salon 2009-01-10: What makes a book good?

This is perhaps not quite the right tone for my first Sunday Salon post but it is the reading-related issue that has been consuming my thoughts this week . I’ve barely blogged (only one post yesterday) and hardly read (all will become clear) this week so I really only have this experience to discuss .

On Monday I started a book that I’d been saving for a while. I knew this week would be a tiring one as a big project I’ve been toiling away at for ages went into production at work so I wanted something guaranteed to be gripping and entertaining for my downtime. I was looking for a ‘sure thing’ rather than taking a risk on an unknown author (which I do enjoy doing but just didn’t feel like doing this week). As I loved this author’s first two books and am planning to read his most recent one in April when it is due for discussion at Oz Mystery Readers I thought it made sense to choose Michael Robotham’s The Night Ferry to read this week.

Alas I have struggled virtually since page one to engage with the characters or the story and have almost given up on multiple occasions. A week later I’m still 150 pages from the end (when I normally read around two books a week) and have taken to rewarding myself with teeny treats when I finish a chapter or two. I’ll eventually review it here and will save my more detailed comments for that but will simply say now that I am not finding it to be a good book.

Why am I still reading it? As I’ve discussed before I’m not averse to putting a book down unfinished but I have deliberately not done that this time. The reason is that I keep thinking I must have missed something crucial. Something that other people (Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for example) can see that I can’t. Surely a book can be looked at objectively and determined to be good, can’t it?

Perhaps not. At another online reading group I belong to, 4 Mystery Addicts, a list of the group’s collective top and bottom books for last year was just collated. Several books appear on both lists including two (Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and CJ Box’s Blue Heaven) which appear in the top ten and bottom ten. Both also happen to have been in my own top ten for 08 so I clearly think both of them are good (even great) books. But at least a couple of people think each is bad enough to make to an ‘awfulest books of the year’ list. Are some of us wrong? Can a book be good and bad? Is it all just a matter of taste? Is there not some standard measurement that can be applied so I’ll know when it’s my fault I don’t enjoy a book?

I’m going back to the reading chair now to finish off  The Night Ferry so I can start the new reading week with a good book.

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4 Responses to Sunday Salon 2009-01-10: What makes a book good?

  1. Kerrie says:

    I think whether you like a bookor not can be a really personal thing Bernadette.
    Sometimes even a favourite author will cause me to wonder why I am reading this particular title.


  2. Vasilly says:

    If I disliked a book and I read a good review about the book, I sometimes think of rereading the book to see if I missed something. But I never do.

    I think it boils down to personal taste. I also want to know why are you slogging through a book that’s not entertaining you? Put it down. This year I refuse to finish a book that doesn’t catch my interest and is not school-related. Life is too short.

    Have a good week!


  3. Dani in NC says:

    I think there is a difference between a good book and an important book. I’ve read books that give me a lot to think about, but I wouldn’t call them “good”. An important book is like driving to work. It is necessary and you get some benefit from it (your paycheck after you show up), but it isn’t as fun as riding the roller coaster of a good book.

    I’m with Vasilly; life is too short to slog through a boring book. I feel guilty sometimes when I give up some books, like that A. S. Byatt book that everyone loved but I found insufferable. Part of me clings to that outmoded idea that there is a select list of books that all well-rounded people have read. In this modern age, there are too many books to put together a definitive list. So read what you want!


  4. bernadetteinoz says:

    I normally do put books down when I’m not enjoying them. But I’m so fond of this author – not only his previous books but also as a person. Also I can’t really define why I’m not enjoying it and keep reading to see if I can nail it down.


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