As readers, we are often told what makes a good book or novel; whether it be top 100 lists full of Joyce, Dickens and Hardy, or Newspaper reviews analysed by people of knowledge and/or influence. However, these lists and opinions do not always constitute an enjoyable read. I am aware Dickens is a significant author, the social commentary in his novels was groundbreaking; however, everytime I try and read something longer than A Christmas Carol my eyes blur as I become bored with the language.
Recently I have come to realise that the following factors are heavy influences on whether I will enjoy a book or not. They are not intrinsic to my enjoyment, but they are important.
1. The Human Method – interesting, well developed characters.
I have no time for heroes and villains – I like my characters multifaceted. I need stories where everyone is both good and bad, to varying levels; characters that make mistakes due to a legion of circumstances, bad decisions and good intentions.
In Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford Sylvia Tietjens is a manic depressive, painful, horrific, commodity. She is a perfect example to this point; Sylvia is laden with insecurities and conflicting wants and desires. She knows no other way to keep what she wants than control; which is ironic as simultaneously she wants to escape the societal controls which restrict her.
2. The Emotional Connection – stories that make you feel.
When I finish a book feeling sad, anxious, angry etc…, it is a sign that the book is a good’en – especially when the feeling is a negative one. Personally, I like a book that makes me cry; I do not generally do that in real life unless I am in a rage, so any elicit of alternative emotion is welcome.
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom had me steadily teary throughout; Morrie’s lessons to his forever-student Albom combined with Albom’s dealing with Morrie’s death were both wonderfully and painfully human. Without being sentimental Tuesday’s with Morrie teaches you how to live life and accept death.
3. The Fact Check – literary context.
Getting Historical facts correct is an important factor to my reading enjoyment, there is nothing more upsetting than reading around a novel’s subject matter only to find half of what is said is utter rubbish. Sure, elaborate and make some assumptions, but no massive leaps into the ridiculous please. Not to say that I do not enjoy a good dystopian or fantasy, I just want the actions to work in the context of the world in which it is set.
The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin is in no way historically accurate, but it works in the context of the fabricated world in which it is set. It is fantasy set in a medieval environment; I will happily accept dragons, magic and ice zombies, but the second I read an alien I am done.
4. The Well Written Conundrum – punctuation and grammar are your friends.
I am no grammar queen, to my eternal shame, but I can tell when something is badly written. All I ask is the appropriate use of grammar and punctuation – I need what I am reading to make sense.
Well written prose make a book, and an author, sound more intelligent – worth listening too. Could you imagine Wuthering Heights written like Fifty Shades of Grey? – I don’t think I would have enjoyed the following extract nearly as much.
“I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.”
5. The Intellectual Debate – the ability to make me think.
I enjoy a ‘smart’ novel, not necessarily in regards to subject matter, but in regards to the intelligent journey it takes me on. Sometimes the emotional factor of point number 2 can interfere with this – I have loved novels that have made me cry, but I have learn nothing from them – but for the most part, I enjoy novels that leave me feeling as if I have learnt something new.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut are two books which have expanded my mind. The Reader lead me to think in shades of grey, and Slaughterhouse-Five took me on a journey through my own head, through history, fatalism, philosophy and a splice of time travel.
So these are five criteria which, mostly, make a book enjoyable for me; what makes a book enjoyable for you?
Mostly known as Alice, I live my life betwixt a daydream of books, interesting things, silliness, and a bleak, bleak reality. I wander literary pastures in search of the next good book, then write about them on my blog. I also write about my (excuse for a) life – ish; it is vaguely amusing if only for the mundane hopelessness.
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