There have been a number of posts and references around the bloggernacle recently about what constitutes a good book. The Wiz lamented the state of bestsellers, Heather O talked about what she thinks is a good story (and in doing so, referenced those she thought were bad), and Adam linked to A Reader’s Manifesto, which attacks recent Literary Works. All of this got me thinking about what I consider a good book.
One thing that made me think about this especially were Heather O’s disparaging comments about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. While I don’t know that it’s a Literary Masterpiece, I do consider it one of the best books I’ve read in years. It’s one of the few books that, after I checked out a copy and read it, I went to the bookstore and bought my own (new) copy. It was good enough that I knew I wanted to have it in my collection. Of course, Heather O is entitled to her own opinion of it, but our differing opinions really got me thinking about why I like it, and why I like books in general.
The conclusion I came to was that for me, a good book is all about the characters. A good book makes me feel what the characters are feeling. There needs to be a halfway decent plot, but if I can’t relate to the characters, no amount of plot will save the book for me. The same goes for the actual prose. It needs to not get in the way of the story too much, but I honestly don’t care if it’s great. I recently re-read what have always been some of my favorite books (the early Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey) and I realized that the prose really isn’t that good. It’s not horrible, but there are a lot of places that sentence structure and the like could be significantly improved. But you know what else I realized? I really don’t care. The fact that the prose isn’t wonderful really doesn’t bother me, and doesn’t make me love these books any less. They mean a lot to me because they made me feel like someone understood me and understood how I felt at times in my life when I wasn’t really sure anyone did. That is what makes them great books — I can empathize with the characters, and conversely, if others can write characters who feel like these ways, I’m not alone in feeling them.
So for me a story is all about its characters, and my ability to really empathize with them, and feel what they do. I realize that this isn’t true for everyone, though. So I want to know: What makes a book really great for you?