Good books

All the dust up surrounding the Hugo nominations had me thinking about good books: what makes a good book and what good books I’ve read. There is no easy answer nor is there a single answer. Each one of us has a different definition of what makes a good book. In fact, that definition probably changes depending on what mood we’re in. But, for most of us, when we are discussion fiction, I believe it comes down to one simple factor: does the book entertain and hold our attention?

There are other factors as well. Is it technically good? In other words, is the formatting easy to read or does it intrude upon the reading experience? Are there so many spelling, grammar and punctuation errors that it throws you out of the narrative? Do you care about the characters?

When it comes to non-fiction, is the book factually accurate or do the author’s feelings about the subject color it so much that it becomes non-fiction? Is it written in a way that it holds our attention or is it so dry that we can’t get through it? Does it present the information in a way that makes us think? Is there enough research present in the book to support its premise?

For fiction, I want a book that draws me in and holds me through to the end. If you expect me to read sixty pages before you hook me, forget it. I might give you a chapter or two but if you haven’t pulled me into the story by then, I’m not going to keep slogging until you do. This applies to all forms and genres of fiction. Hook me and keep me hooked or I’m going on to something else.

Is the book one I will want to reread later? If it is, it’s a good book.

There is nothing wrong with a book that has a message — as long as you aren’t hitting me over the head with that message. Weave it into your plot. Be subtle. Believe it or not but if you, as an author, do your job, subtle will work and it will make me more likely to talk about the book and what it means with my friends. Hit me over the head so I feel like I’m sitting through an overly long sermon and, well, I’m going to tune out.

I don’t have to agree with your politics. In the vast majority of cases, I’m not going to know what your politics are. Most readers won’t. There is no reason for us to know them any more than we will know most other details of your life. All we care about is that you write books (or short stories) that we enjoy. I like Eric Flint’s novel 1632 (Ring of Fire) and Boundary that he wrote with Ryk Spoor. That doesn’t mean I agree with either of them politically or that I agree with Flint’s opinion of unions. I might — I’m not going to tell you any more than I’m going to ask you what you believe.

All that said, there are times when I will quit reading an author because of how that author acts or because of something that author does. (BTW, it is the same thing with actors and politicians and just about anyone else). There is a line in the sand that, once crossed, it takes a lot for me to go back to that author. One way to do it is to cheat me, the reader. I know there will be a book that isn’t up to an author’s standard from time to time. But if there are several bad books in a row, well, I stop reading. An author who simply uses the same plot time after time, merely changing the names of characters and the locations will soon lose me as a reader.

This latter is a problem I am seeing more and more often with writers who tend to put out more than a couple of books a year. Whether it is them or their editor/publisher, I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. Stop recycling your plots, and especially stop doing it as trilogies. You can do better.

Another way to turn me away from an author is to see him — or her — doing his best to ruin the career of another author. Worse, personal attacks without facts to back up the allegations. The last straw with me? Attacking an author’s family. Sorry, that is not only crossing the line but running as far past it as you can before you get tackled.

I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you fall on, if you stoop that low, you have lost me as a reader and I will be glad to tell folks why if they ask.

Anyway, here are some books I have enjoyed and that have re-read value in my opinion. There are a number more, but this is a start.

International (Monster Hunter)

DarkShip Thieves

Naked in Death (In Death, Book 1)

The Chaplain’s War

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)



1 Comment

  1. Everyone loves Larry’s Monster Hunter International series, but I actually prefer his Hard Magic trilogy. I am totally a sucker for alternate history, and any books that feature John Browning and Wild Bill Donovan in starring roles (not to mention a certain Lieutenant Robert A. Heinlein, US Navy in a cameo role) are all right by me. They also seem faster paced than the MHI books.

    Don’t get me wrong, MHI is an excellent series, but don’t make the mistake of missing out on Hard Magic.


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