What Makes A Book Good Or Bad?

Prior to blogging and being an avid  Goodreads user, I never really thought too extensively about what makes a book good or bad or really why I liked something or not. It was either I liked  it or I didn’t. I didn’t think much past that as I didn’t really anyone to really articulate my thoughts to about why I liked a book or what  made it good or bad in my eyes.

Since starting this book blog, I’ve gotten to read what makes a good book or a bad book for many people.  It amazes me how some books have praises sung out the wahzoo.  You know people willing to like tattoo the book on their FACE and crazy shiz like that. And then some people vehemently HATE this same book calling it utter rubbish that they wouldn’t even let TARNISH their trash can. Obviously we all have our own requirements for what makes us like or dislike something. And that’s a good thing. YAY opinions.

But sometimes  I feel unsure of myself as a reviewer when I review a book that I liked or even LOVED to find out that people I trust LOATHED it, said the writing was horrible or the characters didn’t seem realistic…when maybe I thought the exact opposite. It doesn’t sway my opinion or my initial liking of the book but it does cause me to wonder maybe I don’t have a clue as to what good writing is or maybe I don’t know how to read critically and analyze enough. I know I don’t have the literary analysis skills that some possess because I didn’t exactly pay attention in school to give a damn about plot, characterization or any other things that make up a book. I was too busy reading. Blogging really has become an excellent challenge to help me to read more critically and really think about it beyond the initial thoughts. I will never write literary and scholarly reviews like some do (AND THEY AMAZE ME) but I do want to think more about I’m reading.

Some things that can make a book good for me (not always are the all together):

* Characters: While I do love a good plot, sometimes I find myself being so character driven. A good character is what makes me read slow-moving books (along with luscious prose) because I connect with them on some level. I love to see them grow, to make mistakes and to remind me of my own humanness.

* Plot: Ok, I do like a good plot. I don’t want flashy flashy.  I want it to flow together and seamlessly. Don’t play the red light, green light game with me. Ease into it, baby. The plot shouldn’t be all “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M A PLOT!” That just irritates me. A good plot can be ACE.

* World-building: If you can make me forget where I am…you kick ass. I want to be  taken to wherever it is, whether it be the prairie or space, and  I want to FEEL like I’m there and believe so much so that I can’t tell the two apart. It’s like that feeling when you are in between sleep and you are dreaming about stepping off some stairs and you start moving your feet and shit only to wake up and be like, “WTH. Why am I moving like this? I really thought I was walking down the stairs to make out with McDreamy” And then sometimes you THINK you are waking up but really you are DREAMING you are waking up. But I digress.  Get me lost. But don’t info dump. PLEASEANDTHANKYOU.

* Beautiful writing: I am a sucker for pretty words. If I have the urge to highlight the shit out of your novel or find myself not being able to read because I am too busy post-it noting beautiful things, you win. I will salivate all over your words.

Those are just a few things. But even still, I sometimes feel like I don’t even know what the heck a good plot IS or what fully developed characters are. I THINK I do sometimes and then sometimes I’ll read someones well written argument against a book and think…hmmm..why didn’t I see that? Does anyone else ever feel like  this? But also, sometimes I’ll find myself racing through a book and can’t put it down…does that mean it is necessarily good? These things I find hard to reconcile sometimes.


So let’s get the talky talk on: What makes a book “good” for you? Does the writing matter? The plot? How fast your little fingers turned those pages? I want to know! And  also, do you think there are things that universally make a book good or bad? I always rolled my eyes when it came to my Lit and Arts discussion of “what makes art good” but seriously..I want to have this convo with you. I want to know what makes you declare FIVE STAR STATUS or hurl across the room hatred!

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 28 year old married lady who is in denial that she's actually that old. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating gelato, listening to music with oversized headphones and teaching her niece how to be as awesome as she is.

Comments

  1. Badass Bookie says:

    What makes a book good or bad? I've never really THOUGHT about it but now that I do…it's a number of things.

    1) Characters – I hate whiny characters who are also bitter and angry ( why is it me? why can't be someone else? yada yada yada) They're filled with so much neagtivity, it's depressing to read! I don't want to read about some characters with a one man pity party. I don't like damsel in distresses either. Strong characters with personalities equal good books!

    2) Writing – It's so important for me to read a novel where the writing is comfortable. Novel that you can get into right away!

    3) Romance – No romance = bad book. That said…

    4) Action – A romance with no action is a bad book. I don't want to read an entire novel with great romance but no plot.

    5) NO info dumps – I don't like novels with huge chunks of information to take in all at once.

  2. It's a mixture of all of those things, but what I think it really comes down to is how close the author gets to basic human truths and the human condition. Can I understand, truly understand, where the characters are coming from? Does what I read touch me in a way that only good writing can? Will I remember what I read here? Do I empathize with the character I'm reading about? It all ties in, and that's what I think makes a good book. You just have to connect with it.

  3. Sash and Em says:

    Lately for me, with all of the "trends" going on – Dystopian Societies/Mythology/etc, a lot of what makes a good book has been the originality and uniqueness of the book itself.

    Take Delirium or Divergent vs. Matched for instance. All three of these books could be marked as Dystopian. However, for me, the originality of Delirium (where "love" is a disease) and Divergent (where they are split amongst Factions) is what made those books good. Matched was just a Dystopian where I often found myself wondered what the heck was going on and why they were even IN a dystopian society. Also, many of its characteristics were TOO similiar to Lois Lowry's The Giver.

    With that said, I have seen many good and unique ideas squandered away.

    Character driven stories are important to making a good book when the story is told in first person. When a book is told in 3rd person, I don't feel like it's as important for me to "connect" with them for me to like the book. (Interestingly enough, I just read a review of Lola and the Boy Next Door where the reviewer only gave Lola 4 stars stated that she just didn't click with Lola the way she did with Anna. So, even when the book is 1st person, it's the "reader-bias" that still effects what they think of the book)

    Great Post!!

  4. Sash and Em says:

    and it's definitely *AFFECTS. Spelling is key to great book as well. :-P

  5. I'm so with you on the whole not being a good literary analistic person… But I know what I like. And whether or not I enjoyed it is what makes it a good book for me and is the reason whether or not I will recommend it to people. I don't know if there is a real definition of what makes a book good or bad and my opinion is definitely not the universal consensus, but maybe it just matters what's good for you?

    What makes me slap on a 5 star rating is that I get sucked in the story, those times when I have to remind myself that I'm not the main character and I can't in fact wave my wand and make things happen. When I have to tell myself: no, so and so isn't a 'real' person.
    I love it when that happens :)

  6. Chrisbookarama says:

    It really depends on the book. When I start reading a book, I have certain expectations. Say I'm reading a cozy mystery, I know there will be a spunky chick who will get herself into situations. I know it will be mostly about plot and some character. But say I'm reading a 'literary' novel, there should be a focus on character and the writing. There might not be much of a plot. If the cozy is plotless, then I'm going to be disappointed. If the characters in a lit novel are cliche and wooden, the same.

    But most of all, if I'm taken out of the story for some reason then it looses points from me. If someone does something out of character or something unbelievable happens or someone says something no one ever would in real life, then I start to see all the flaws I may not have noticed otherwise. I have to believe this is happening and these people are real, even if they are vampires or werewolves.

  7. Chrisbookarama says:

    And that is 'loses' not 'looses'. Can't believe I did that since it's one of my grammar pet peeves!

  8. SweetestLittleBookworm says:

    I think you're right on target with what makes a book good/bad for me. I'm a character girl (LOVE me some secondary characters as well as character development, my readers probably get nauseated as much as I talk about it) and more than anything I want to be somewhere else when I read, so BIG UPS to the world-building (I'm looking at you, Paolo Bacigalupi and Julianna Baggott.) And I have a freakin pink notebook that I carry around ALWAYS with my quotes in it because the index cards, post-its and such became TOO MUCH for the husband. You're totally on target.

    I think as far as my 'reviews' go (ugh, I am so scared to use that word!)–I don't think I can fairly say that I adequately REVIEW anything. I just really give my thoughts on mainly the three things you listed and a few others, and for some reason, people want to read what I have to say. I'm in awe of the people who really know how to review and make it sound so awesome, but me–I just give my thoughts and that's about it.

    I LOATHE it, however, when people say a book isn't GOOD or it is BAD because they don't like something about the story. That TANS MY HIDE. Why? you ask. I'll tell you. Because judging a story is so subjective. Everyone has a different opinion, a different set of favorite genres, a different set of favorite authors, etc. My rules for judging 'good' and 'bad' are different from everyone else's…so how is it fair that I will call out a story as BAD when maybe I just don't particularly love the romance genre, or the historical fiction genre, or the dystopian genre, or whatever? It isn't. And the authors that put their hearts and souls into these works of art do not need my negative press just because I don't particularly love their story. But it IS fair to judge the parts of the story–the characterization, the world-building, the cohesiveness, the things like that. So that is what I base my 'good' vs. 'bad' feelings on. Does that make any sense at all?

    So, for me…here is story X. These are the PARTS of the story that make it GOOD or BAD/NEED A LITTLE WORK. And then I LOVE/LIKE/DIDN'T REALLY LOVE the story. And I will DEFINITELY/PROBABLY NOT read anything else by this author in the future.

    I may have gotten way off base here, but I love your question.

    ~Asheley

  9. Uhm, I totally feel you! I am not an overly critical, scholarly book blogger either and at times I get bothered that I am not cause, I am a reader based on feeling. Which is why I started blogging in the format I do, to make me become a better critical reader. But even then I struggle sometimes when I answer my more analytically sections. Sometimes, I want to scrap that format and just tell you how I freaking feel about the book.

    Overall without being an over analyzed critical reader what gets me to love a book is usually writing that can take me to another place or make me feel for something so deeply. Also, a plot that is new and original and so well written (in my opinion) that I can't put the book down. I Don't Know. I am a feeling reader.

  10. For Me, I really just want to be entertained. I really enjoy a good plot twist and believable characters. I love clever characters and books that make me gasp or laugh out loud.

  11. dooliterature says:

    I guess, as someone who took a lot of creative writing workshops in college, I've become more attuned to the writing of a book. There are some books I just cannot read, no matter how popular they are or how thrilling the plots are because cannot get past the writing (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown *coughcough*). I've read some pretty amazing books in genres I don't usually run to because of writing style.

    That being said, I am also a huge character person. I had a hard time this past weekend trying to get through My Cousin Rachel because I could not stand how big of an idiot the main character was. If I can't understand a main character, or if I don't like him, I don't particularly like the book.

    Plot then comes in third place for me. If it's, in my opinion, a stupid plot, I can usually stomach through the book as long as the first two criteria are there.

    I guess to me, a "good" book is all very relative, and I don't think there are any universal means by which we can claim a book is good (or bad for that matter). I think what makes a book successful is one that is accessible and enjoyable to a large audience.

  12. We Heart YA says:

    Those are definitely the 4 main components of a good book — for us, anyway. But as others here have said, we're all going to judge each of those elements differently. That's what's so great about art. No one is going to agree, and no one has to. We're all free to like what we like and dislike what we dislike. Think about your best friends: do you agree on everything? No, of course not. And if you did, that would be boring. (And dangerous too! Don't want to fight over crushes. ;)) Same is true of books. And even better, you can't hurt a book's feelings.

  13. Anna @annascottjots says:

    Characters are first and foremost – you can get all the other elements right, but if the author can't create a convincing protagonist then the whole thing just falls apart.

    Also, having consistency with the characters – it really annoys me when the author goes to so much effort to create someone than I love/sympathize with/have major crush on and then they go and have them do something, be it major or minor, and I think, hang on one little second there matey, they would so NOT go there!

    I know it's often repeated but the old 'show don't tell' rule is, for the most part, true. If I'm given and blow-by-blow account of how a character is feeling, I am sorely tempted to shove the book down the side of the sofa!

  14. S. Leighanne says:

    You hit it when you posted those 4 points!
    All of those things are equally important to me. Especially characters. If I can really relate to a character and understand where they're coming from, it puts the book on a different level to me. World-building is also fantastic. Sometimes when I read certain books I keep looking at the page number, or get distracted easily, but if the writer can transport me into whatever world it is, they're done a fantastic job.
    I hate it when people say that a book was terrible though when its just something about the plot that they didn't like. In my opinion, there is so much more to look at than a shitty plot twist. But, that's the beauty of the world that we live in: to each their own :]

  15. Jen (Makeshift Bookmark) says:

    A BIG hells yes to "making me forget where I am." This, to me, is what makes a good book. But then again, I need those characters. I need the characters that rip my heart out of my chest and stomp on it, only to pick it back up lovingly and beg for forgiveness.

  16. Christina / Book Addict says:

    For me, all it takes is a character that I can relate to, a story that sucks me in and basically is all consuming. I have to think about the book when I'm not reading it and it has to have a plot that WOWS me. A little bit of romance helps too. :) Great discussion post, Jamie!

  17. Christina / Book Addict says:

    For me, all it takes is a character that I can relate to, a story that sucks me in and basically is all consuming. I have to think about the book when I'm not reading it and it has to have a plot that WOWS me. A little bit of romance helps too. :) Great discussion post, Jamie!

  18. theludicreader says:

    I am here via a Twitter link.

    I found this post very interesting because, of course, when you have a blog and you blog about books you sometimes feel you *do* need credentials or something. Really, though, I think all you need is what you so clearly have – a love of literature.

    If you belong to a book club, you'll have had the experience where you go to a meeting thinking everyone will, obviously, HATE the book because it was utter crud. (cough*The DaVinci Code*/cough) It will then come as a complete surprise to discover that people – intelligent, well-read people – loved the book! It's SO subjective.

    I think the writing can be fantastic and the book can still be an utter bore. The writing can also be mediocre and you can't put the book down. Sometimes I start a book and despite the hoopla, I can't get through it. Sometimes I can't understand why a quiet little book I've loved isn't the most read and adored book in the world.

    For me, a 5 star book is beautifully written, makes me feel deeply, has believable characters, makes me re-examine some world-view. A 5 star book is a book that as soon as I am done, I can't wait to find someone to give it to in a "here, you must read this immediately. Go. Now!" sort of way.

    But the beauty of literature is that my 5 star and your 5 star don't have to be the same for us to have lots to talk about…and that's why I love blogs.

  19. Really good post! And a good discussion topic, too.

    I agree with you, apparently we share a lot of the 'what makes a good book' qualities.

    It depends on so many factors for me! I really like good characters in a book, and when the characters aren't likable or they're underdeveloped, often I find myself disliking it. Plot's important, as long as it's not obvious. Pace is important, but not REALLY important because a book can still be SO FLIPPING AWESOME even if it's slow… Pretty writing style. Unique, filled-with-character-and-depth kind of voices in 1st person are killer (in a good way!) for me. I'm also a sucker for world-building. I think that's why I like dystopians so much– many people think they start out too slow and don't like the world-building for most dystopians because it slows the story down or whatever and I've never felt that!

    The bottom line for me though, is that it changes. I can read a book I really don't think I'll like because I've heard it's poorly written or the characters have very little depth and sometimes that's true and I still love it for some reason. Every time I narrow down what I like and don't like, it seems like a book comes along– a game changer, if you will.

  20. I usually don't deem a book bad unless it has serious grammatical or spelling errors. Even calling the character by the wrong name bugs me.
    I usually just chalk up books to if I liked them or not. Or if I would recommend them to a friend.
    i agree with you on what I look for too.

  21. LOVE that you posted this. Before I started blogging a book was good or bad because I said so. If I liked it, it was good, if I didn't, it sucked. Now I try to be a lot more objective. If I didn't like a book, I look for the reasons why and see if it is a personal bias or an actual flaw of the book. I think my subjective experience still gets the final say and colors my rating, but I try a lot harder to look at all aspects. I am with you on the characters being the most important. I think second after that for me is good writing. It doesn't always have to be beautiful, though – sometimes snarky or sarcastic does it for me as well.

  22. Sometimes I find it difficult to pinpoint what I love about a book besides being gushy about it. I do wonder too about whether I know what good writing is. I did take an abundance of English classes, but I am not sure I paid enough attention. Sometimes I feel self-conscious when I read those analytical, beautifully written reviews. But then I try to remember to just breathe and be myself. But I'm with you. Book blogging has made me want to read more critically and pay more attention than just fly through a book without giving it another though.

  23. Laura @ Bunny Tales says:

    It is a je ne suis qua… a certain something, it is elusive yet tangible. You know when you like a book you know when you hate a book. It's just that sometimes you don't exactly know why.

    There are some specifics I have, don't hurt kids…that irks me.
    Don't be trite…that will jar me out of my suspended disbelief instantly.
    Don't be shallow…hate that!
    Don't start 'telling' and not 'showing' I'm pretty smart, tell me right and I'll get it and see what you want me to see.

    Some books have "it" forever and then there are others that I used to love but now I'm not so enamored with..aka: Flowers in the Attic..used to love that, tried it again year and years (and years) later and yeah, not so much.

    And the cool thing is, everyone is different. Someone may not mind a cliche here and there, some people may get frustrated and bored with overly descriptive prose.

    That's the great thing about having so much to chose from! The point is we get to read and reading makes us feel…something! And we share it with the author, and other readers (thank you interwebs) and maybe our friends. Reading, solitary activity that it is, good book OR not so good book, connects us. And that IS good!

  24. I sort of have levels of liking a book. The good books have good stories, engaging plots and mostly believable characters. The amazing books pull me in and drop me off in the middle of the world they inhabit. Those are the books I reread and obsess about. When I am reading YA, I notice that realistic dialogue can really make or break a story. Is the writer making the characters sound like something from a 1980s Valley Girl movie or is it genuine?

  25. I love characters and plot mostly. They have to be but together in a certain way that causes an emotional response. I love when I root for characters so hard that I'm pacing around the room.

    I also like when relationships develop over time. Not a fan of the instant love, but when it's drawn out and has all this emotional build up I love it.

  26. Reading is emotional (or at least, it should be.) We bring our own experiences and beliefs along with us when we read. There are many different ways to discuss books — none of them is wrong. That's why I love reading so many different blogs — there's many different perspectives. I've also found if there are many differing opinions of a book, it makes me want to read it, to see why — so not agreeing with everyone else isn't a bad thing.

    I also love different books for different reasons — but I'm a very eclectic reader, and read pretty much everything. I love a plot driven thriller, I love a beautiful romance with a well described exotic setting….

    Interesting thoughts. I enjoyed the post… and the comments.

  27. I really like how you have so many details of what is a good book or not. I just started book blogging and when writing reviews I find that I have a hard time saying WHY I did or didn’t like the book . I just do or don’t. I’m really enjoying book blogging (for the whole week that I’ve been doing it haha) because not only do I get to enjoy the story but I really get to analyze it and figure out what was so great about it and what wasn’t. It’s like seeing all my books from an entirely new point of view :)

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