Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Every book has its day

I've read some articles lately that attack the public view of what makes a good book. First up was a piece about The Great Gatsby, in which the reviewer admitted they thought the book was utter crap. And that what most people think it's about - the parties and the celebration of decadence - completely misses the point.

Someone else sneered at Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and other bestsellers. They may be popular, the writer said - but that doesn't mean they're good. Only women's book groups like them, not real critics like me.

Fact is, everyone likes to look down on something. We all want to feel superior in our own way. Yes, I love a formulaic slasher novel, but at least I don't read romance. Yes, I read British chick lit, but I don't touch that American trash. Oh, fantasy...I prefer Margaret Atwood myself...

And so on.

Well who says what a good book is? These are the ingredients for me:

It must have a story that makes me want to keep reading.
It must have characters I like spending time with.
I must enjoy it.

Anything else is just a bonus.

Thing is, almost every book is a good book to someone. One person's tastes do not match another's. Thank God for that. At Easter I get to eat all the marshmallow eggs, because others in my house don't like them. Lots of authors get told they're unpublishable before making their first billion. It's just how life is.

If the mark of a quality book is one you read over and over, here's my own list of the classics. Take it as read that Jane Austen is on here...

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

Feet of Clay and Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

Q & A - Vikas Swarup

The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer

The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

One For the Money - Janet Evanovich

Be My Enemy - Christopher Brookmyre

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J. K. Rowling

Dead Beat - Jim Butcher

I own a lot of crime novels, naturally, but they don't feature on here so highly because it's best not to remind yourself of the ending too often. Wait a few years and then surprise yourself all over again! I recommend: Mark Billingham, Louise Penny, Stuart MacBride, C. J. Sansom, Belinda Bauer, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Adrian McKinty.

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