Alchemical Thoughts

What makes a good book for me

Posted on: November 5, 2007

What makes a good book for me? I feel a bit pretentious trying to answer that question. I was an English major, and I have a masters in the subject. In addition, I am a librarian, so I am sure some people have the expectation that I would know what makes a good book. I am not going to go into the debate of whether librarians should give their patrons what they want or what they should have in order to be educated citizens. I think libraries should fall somewhere in the middle as long as they support their institutional mission. In my setting, my academic library's mission is to support the university's larger educational mission. Now, if as part of that mission, you provide for some recreational reading needs as well for the academic community then so much the better.

But it is not as simple as that. In many ways, I am an unconventional reader. I rarely read what is on the bestseller lists. I pick and choose what to read, and it is often based on mood. In terms of genre, I am a science fiction reader. I go from hard sci-fi to space opera to lighter fare. I read some fantasy, mostly light stuff, and lately I have been exploring fantasy series like Dragonlance. I like some horror fiction as well, but I admit I don't read as much of it as I would like. I like vampire fiction, but I have not found anything in that area that would keep my interest for long. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has provided some enjoyment in that regard. I have also read Stephen King, but I find he is hit and miss and that usually his older stuff is better. Other than that, it's bits and pieces when it comes to fiction outside of the genres that I favor. I used to read a lot of what is considered literary fiction when I was in graduate school, but in retrospect, that was work. I don't pick up literary fiction much these days, but I do keep up with the field via reviews. The Internet is a great resource when it comes to learning about books without actually reading them. I can tell you what happened in the Harry Potter series, but I have not read a single book in the series; I don't intend to. The Potter series is just not my cup of tea. I like my fantasy to be a bit more adult. And please, don't tell me adults read the books. I will simply say that is fine for them, but it is not for me. Reading for me is being able to read what you want when you want. Your mood plays a big role in it. As I mentioned, I read science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but I don't always feel like reading in those areas. Sometimes I want a novel. Sometimes I want short fiction, and sometimes I want something entirely different. Sometimes I want to read something like Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, and  other times I want something like Puzo's The Godfather.

In addition, I read a good number of graphic novels and manga as well. For example, I am enjoying the Hellsing series.

By the way, the exception to my literary literature tendency is that I read Latin American authors, especially the big ones like Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and a few others. I do read them in Spanish. There are a few more authors I would like to explore, but right now I am not in the mood. For Garcia Marquez, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude every so often. It is not quite time to revisit Macondo yet, but I feel it will be soon.

And then there is the nonfiction.I enjoy reading history books. I particularly what a few people label as microhistories, titles like The Victorian Internet and A History of the World in Six Glasses. These kind of books usually have a narrow topic, and they still span the world to keep things interesting. Lately, I have been reading a bit more in what is often labeled as current affairs.  I don't consider myself to be a political person, but I find politics interesting at times. I read humor as well because I need to laugh once in a while. As Carlos Mencia often says, "if you ain't laughing, you ain't living." So I read funny stuff to stay healthy and to remind myself that life is often funny and ridiculous.

To me, a good book does a few things. It does not have to do them all at once:

  • It has to be interesting. The book has to hold my attention. I am the reader who will stop reading if the book does not keep my interest.
  • It is good when I can learn something. This is mostly for nonfiction, but I often learn new things in reading fiction.
  • It does not have to be on the bestseller list. In fact, for me, if it is not on some big list, so much the better. I dislike hyped books.
  • However, I do read some books from lists now and then.

I think readers of this small blog may get a better sense of me as a reader if they look in my Good Reads lists (see the sidebar) or read my other blogs where I make some booknotes. In the end, I go by the words of that great Readers' Advisor Joyce Saricks, who says, ". . .that we all read different types of books to meet different moods, and the best books are those that satisfy, no matter what they are."

Note: This post was inspired by the following article, which contains the quote by Joyce Saricks I used above:

Saricks, Joyce. "What Makes a Good Book." Booklist 1 March 2007: 60.

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