What makes a great book?

I love books. You can live a thousand different lives through books. You can learn a limitless amount of information through books. You can see the world we live in through the eyes of strangers. I envy good authors; I can create a scene with a drawing, they can create whole and immersive worlds.

I have rarely written reviews before this. I’m not entirely certain why… but I think it roots in my assumption that my opinion is irrelevant or unneeded, and the fact that I end up sounding like I’m gushing. I’ve realized that there are many as yet unknown but remarkable talents that need all the reviews and help they can get.

A couple of years ago, a member of a forum I frequent posted about a novel he was writing, asking for reviews. I had always found his posts insightful, and almost always incredibly interesting, so, I ordered the book. I will be honest here, I didn’t expect much; I suppose I was both biased for and biased against the book. Had it been a complete stranger, I likely never would have read it at all, and that would have been my immense loss.

Oh, I didn’t expect it to be horrible. I expected it to be good… “for an indie” and instead I learned something about my own prejudices. I learned that somehow; through advertising perhaps, societal expectations maybe… I know there’s a word for it, but for the life of me I can’t think of it. Anyhow, I learned that I had been programmed to assume that if something wasn’t created through large, professional, commercial and impersonal ways, it was automatically going to be sub-par.

Instead, the book was great. I remember reading it and thinking that I’d read many professionally published books that read like crap in comparison. It wasn’t even in a genre I normally prefer(although certainly not one I dislike), and I still really liked it. If it was a bit rough around the edges, it barely showed. It was imaginative, yet logical, and the backdrops were vibrant and unique and uncontrived. See? There I go with the gushing.

So now, instead of automatically dismissing indie work, I look for it. I give the work equal consideration and opened up an entirely new chunk of books to read. Something the internet is absolutely wonderful for is the opportunities it provides artists and authors to share their work on a massive scale that would have been impossible before. It allows the work to stand on its own merits, rather than on what someone in a publishing house or store or wherever, thinks will sell.

So, I want to try to change, I’m going to try to include reviews, of books at least, using a sort of formula. I’m going to list what I think are the aspects of a book that make it enjoyable to read, and rate the books on that. I’ll likely think of more criteria after I have this posted, because I always do.

1. Pacing. How quickly scenes pass, and actions take.

2. Humour. Does it suit the story? Is it actually funny, or does it just try too hard?

3. Good use of metaphors/similes/allegories. Are they too obvious? Not obvious at all? Subtle?

4. Characters. Do they have depth? Are they just archetypes with no originality? Are they likeable?

5. Logic. Does everything connect? Do you find yourself lost because something happens that makes no sense?

6. Twists. Are there any? Are the outcomes predictable? Are they so far out there that, although you weren’t able to guess them, they are too ludicrous to be satisfying?

7. Vocabulary. Is it too verbose? Do the words fit the ambience of the book?

8. Flow. Do you find yourself re-reading sentences because they’re jarring? Do you find yourself replacing words used with ones that sound better suited to you?

Oh, and, in case you were wondering, that indie book that started all this? Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue by Hugh Howey. You should check his site. His books have only gotten better since, and seeing as they started out great, just think how good his newer books are! His Wool series is currently on fire on Amazon.com and all over. If you get nothing else out of this, go check out his work, you will not be disappointed. Every book of his I have read would score A+ on all my aforementioned criteria.



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