Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Makes A Great Book? [You're The Expert]

Recently I was reading an article over at the Guardian that ponders "What's the definition of a great book?" It basically sums itself up saying that there is no way to define a great book.  "I cannot give you rules for how to do this, or criteria, or objective guidelines, and even if I could, I wouldn't. I know how much harm that can do."  And everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

So true.  There is no definition of great writing.  No way to measure a novel's engagement, evocation, or the pleasure it brings to its reader.  Because we're all different.  We are.  And thank goodness.  So, in advance of my 2011 Top 5 declaration, here's this odd bird's criteria to judge a book:
  1. How many times did I stumble over sentence structure and word choice?  When I look at a book critically, I look at the technical parts of the writing as well as the emotional parts.  Was there an easier, more effective way to say what the author said?  Does the way they chose to write it have more literary or poetic value to me than the hitch in my reading rhythm detracted?  Still subjective to even my mood at the time, but isn't that one of the great things about literature? Even tense selection has a bearing on my perception of this.  Example:  Ashfall by Mike Mullin.  I didn't like that it was told in past tense.  It bugged me enough that I stopped reading it.  Yet, it's been named on several lists' top ten, but to me, it's not worth finishing.  
  2. How connected was I to the characters?  I'm not a teenager.  I'm not a boy.  But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't be able to get inside the head of the main character and understand his or her perspective and paradigm.  I should care about him or her.  I should want to know what happens next in his story if it's a serial.  I should be able to determine if he/she and I could be friends or not. These things are paramount to me being able to understand and connect.   Example: The Rivers of Time Series by Lisa Bergren.  I'm still, months later, wondering what will happen next to all of these people.  DYING to be caught up in another adventure.
  3. Did the story make sense?  One of the biggest problem spots with literature for me is this piece of the puzzle.  When an author builds a world, does he or she violate the rules of that world with actions of the characters?  All too often I find either convenience loopholes in the world building or blatant violations of rules that have been given.  This violates my trust as a reader and doesn't allow me to fully enjoy the story before me because my critical side kicks in and then I'm on the prowl for more mistakes.  Example:  Sweetly by Jackson Pearce.  There were so many inconsistencies that I would not have finished it save it was a book group selection.  And when I got to the end, I did indeed throw it.
  4. Was the story predictable?  While this doesn't hold as much weight as the first three questions, it does hold weight.  If I have a book figured out because of obvious foreshadowing and a key-to-the-puzzle prologue, I'm not going to like it as much as if I get hit with unexpected plot twists.  I'm more adept than the people around me in real life at seeing these plot twists coming, (that's not me bragging, that's just me saying it's something I have a talent for) so if I'm surprised, it's a favorable thing for the book.  Example:  Matched by Allie Condie.  I didn't see these coming.  I didn't have the plot figured out from the time I started the book and learned the rules of its world.  Do I see where things are trending?  Absolutely.  But do I know what the characters are going to do about them?  Nope. Result?  The very first dystopian novel I've actually enjoyed.  
  5. Did I think about the story when I wasn't reading the book?  Another one that doesn't apply to all books, because I sometimes read chapters all day long with pauses every ten minutes, and sometimes I sit and read them all in one sitting.  But after I'm done, am I pondering the ramifications of the last chapter?  Or did I throw the book across the room and into the wall because I thought it was a waste of my time?  Example:  The Need series by Carrie Jones.  WHEN WILL ENDURE BE ON MY DOORSTEP?  I check its release date frequently, hoping it was moved up.
I hope this share enlightens you as to a bit of the way I judge and critique books.  Our Top 5 of 2011 will be out before the end of the year.  Merry Christmas!  ♥  May your presents be filled with awesome reads, yo.  ♥

If you want to share what you think is important in a book, or what defines a great book to you, leave a comment, or write your own post and leave us a link, we'd adore it!  We're super interested interested in what you have to say on the subject.

For those of you not familiar with You're The Expert here at I Heart Monster, it's a type of post where we share some information with you, then ask you what you think about that information.  We encourage you to leave your opinion or answers in the comments section, and even write your own post as an answer if you are so inclined.  See, we're all different, and we all have different experiences, and that's part of what makes the blogosphere such a fun place - we're all experts about what we think and how we feel and our particular view on the world.  This is just a forum for you to share those with the rest of us.  A safe place where your opinion is respected.  Attacking or hostile comments will be removed.  If you do write a post, we'd love it if you share the link with us.