But Is It . . .


. . . good?  

That’s the question all creatives ask themselves at one time or another. Whether we’re writing a book, painting a canvas, or creating a song, a sculpture, or even a garden, at some point, we all stop to wonder – is it good?

Readers want to know that too. Lately, I’ve been working a few days a week in the local bookstore in our little village. It’s been an interesting opportunity to learn about publishing from the book-selling side of the aisle. And something that happens regularly is customers come in and ask, ‘is this book good?’

It’s a challenging question to answer because good is difficult – I’d argue nearly impossible – to define. Must a book be an award winner to be deemed good? Must it be literary (whatever that means)? Does a likeable (or unlikeable) character make a book ‘good?’ Should a good book have lyrical prose or spare writing? Be a certain length? Have a linear plot line or one that’s more innovative? Does a good book deal with weighty subjects or sweep you away in a froth of escapism? Should it have a happy ending . . . an ambiguous ending . . . or an ending that makes you think?

Good, I’d argue, is subjective. For instance, I don’t like to eat anything custard-related, so no matter how well-prepared, I’d never find a crème Brule or a Spanish flan ‘good.’ One of my friends strongly dislikes yellow, so any garden with a lot of yellow isn’t good for her. Art – books – are different, you say? I don’t think so. Good, by definition, is open to individual taste, and even that can vary depending on timing and circumstances.

As an example, I always enjoy books by Lianne Moriarty. Yet a few years ago, when my dad was hospitalized, and I was dealing with multiple weighty issues around that, I had to put her novel Nine Perfect Strangers down. It’s a thriller with ten points of view, and it’s dark. I didn’t have the concentration to follow ten characters and a good read for me then was something more uplifting. Conversely, I’m not usually a fan of gothic or vampire novels, nor do I like New Orleans as a setting (I don’t know why), but years ago, I ripped through Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series and loved it. I don’t know if the novels would hold up for me today, but back then, I called them a good read.  

One of the definitions of good, as stated by The Cambridge Dictionary, is ‘being of a kind that is pleasing or enjoyable.’ For me, as a writer, that means being satisfied or pleased with what I produce and knowing it’s the best I can do at that moment. For me, as a reader, it means immersing myself in a story or narrative that enriches my life in some way, regardless of the techniques it uses to do that.

Good, in the end, is a feeling that’s hard to measure or define. But feeling is the keyword there. And in the words of Paul Sweeney, “You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you’ve said goodbye to a friend.” 

8 thoughts on “But Is It . . .

  1. Food for thought. A good book for me may not be a good book for someone else. I disliked the Road, not because of the writing but because of the subject matter. It is considered a good book by many.

    1. That’s so true, Darlene. I see that with my likes and dislikes too, and it’s also apparent at the bookstore. Some readers love a book while others just don’t.

  2. I love that quote from Paul Sweeney, both as a reader and a writer. I think I’ll post it above my writing desk. As I writer I want my readers to consider the characters in my books as “friends” or at least people they can understand and appreciate. Thanks for this excellent post.

  3. Great post, Laura. As you pointed out, what resonates with one reader may leave another cold. The books I class as good are often the ones that stay on my ‘keeper’ shelf. Because I will read them again…if only to experience the pleasure of being with those characters again.

    1. It’s almost like our keeper shelf holds our friends . . . that we can pull out and revisit. Thanks for commenting, Gail!

  4. Love this one Laura and that quote speaks to me too. Having decided to slow down a bit since my vacation I have rediscovered my joy for reading. Something I have been unable to find focus for over the last 2 years and have greatly missed. I always enjoy your blog! Keep up the GOOD work❤️.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *