G is for good and great books

Author: Anne

Date Published: Jul 12th 2017, 10:47pm

I originally wrote the blog below about a year ago. Looking at it again I feel that my definitions are still solid for me but I would say that I now read more "good" books and that fewer of them are classics than I originally supposed.


There is nothing like reading a good book. But how do we define what a good book is ? We probably each have our own views and I suspect that if we discussed them we would have some differences of opinion about the definition. My fellow blogger, Debra, gave her view in a recent blog and she feels (not to put words in her mouth) that a good book is one which you enjoy. Whilst I agree I would also like to take her simple explanation and make it more complicated because I think that there is more to the matter.

I think that there are, in fact, three types of good book – a good read, a good book of its type, and a good book. Bear with me while I try to unravel my thought processes.

I think that any book that you really enjoy can be described as a good read. I don’t think that it matters particularly whether anybody else shares your view of this because if you enjoyed it then it is good for you. I do think, however, that even when I define a book as a good read I can still be aware that it has some shortcomings. I think, for example of Dan Brown novels which I enjoy immensely but I hesitate to call a good book although I am happy to describe them as a good read. Even his most avid fans must admit that the plots are preposterous, the characterisations weak, and the action implausible. I still enjoy reading them though. I can think of other books which meet the criteria of being very entertaining but having major flaws. I would describe these as a good read and for that reason they often get five stars when I am reviewing them.

Some books are excellent but only when compared with similar books or with your expectations for the type of novel. For example, Trisha Ashley and Marian Keyes write excellent romantic/women’s fiction which I adore. When I compare them with other similar novels they are obviously better written books because they are more original, the characterisations are more rounded and the book is more coherent as a whole. I don’t necessarily enjoy them more than other books which I would describe as a good read but I do think they are technically better. If, however, you compare them with some other books which we might define as literary fiction you may feel that they don’t stand up as well. They are genre books and good of their type but because they are of a type they have limitations and are written to meet or address certain expectations that the reader has of that sort of book.

A good book for me is one which transcends both these two previous categories. A good book is one which is excellent in its writing, original in some way and which has something to say beyond just telling a story. A good book is also one which stands the test of time although not all books which have lasted a long time are good books (see Thomas Hardy and Bram Stoker as examples of long-lasting authors of books which don’t quite meet the criteria of good as I am defining it). I actually think that you don’t have to like a good book for it still to be defined as good. The definition of a good book is one that can be argued about but examples of what I mean are the books of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen and George Eliot to name but a few. Academics and others argue incessantly about what can be contained in the canon of good books in English Literature, especially more recent publications.

I often find good books to be a hard and even uncomfortable read. Some of them are not entirely relevant to today’s reader and there is a lot of discussion about what more modern books can also be called good. My reading diet doesn’t include a lot of these books although I did read many more when I was studying literature.

I read a lot more of books which are good of their type. I really enjoy a well written crime thriller or romance and I delight when I find one which is better than the average. If my reading consisted solely of these books I would be delighted. I also read a lot of books which I would define as good reads. These books are enjoyable and carry me along but I know that they are not the best of their type. I do not apologise for reading books purely for their enjoyment and not for any intrinsic worth – I read for enjoyment and that is what they provide.

Now – if we were to try and define a bad book that might be an interesting exercise !