Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Blogger Hop #34 (4/4 - 4.10): What qualifies a book as good or bad?





Welcome to the new
Book Blogger Hop,
hosted by Billy @
He took over this hop from
Jennifer @ Crazy For Books!
For more information, click HERE.


What to Do

1.) Post on your blog answering this week's
question:

To you, what qualifies a book
as good or bad?
Are some books objectively better
than others, or is it purely
a matter of opinion?

2.)  Enter the link to your post in the
Linky list on Bill's blog.

3.)  Visit other blogs on the list and
comment on their posts. 

4.)  Be sure to find out next week's
question when you visit Bill's blog!


My Answer

I think this is a matter of subjective opinion, to a certain degree.  There are books that are universally considered bad, but on the other hand, there are others that some people might love, while others heartily dislike them.

For me, there are several factors involved.  

There's the matter of style, for instance.  I happen to love poetic prose, so I tend to prefer books containing beautifully structured sentences and vivid word pictures with memorable metaphors and similes.  I hate vulgar language, so I do tend to avoid profanity, and sentences such as, "He hauled ass." make me climb the walls!  (I actually found this sentence in an urban fantasy novel.  The author shall remain nameless.)  The English language is far too rich and beautiful for an author to be throwing such garbage at readers.

Unfortunately, this brings in the matter of grammar, syntax, editing, and punctuation.  I will immediately put down a book if it has editing issues, because these things just take me completely out of the story!  Authors should be experts at writing.  If that's not the case, then they should try to get the best editing possible within their budgets.  It's simply inexcusable to find errors such as "it's shadow covered there house", or "then she through the ball to him"!  (These are not quotes from any books, but represent the types of glaring errors I've come across.)

Here's a short sample of some  great writing, from Falling, by J. Bennett, a book I recently reviewed:
  
"Mostly, the hunger is a song with a secret melody only I can hear.  The music clings to each breath of wind and the calm in between.  It hums along the spongy corridors of my brain, each note jumping from one stalled synapse to the next.  At night, when the sun cannot feed me its thin soup, the song grows loud as thunder captured in my bones.  Destruction concealed beneath the beauty."  (From the Prologue, pg. 3)

Now, that is truly great proseThe grammar is flawless, the sentences beautifully constructed and flowing, the metaphors vivid and powerful.  Of course, I gave this novel a glowing review!

Another quality I look for is strong, consistent characterizations.  If there's one thing that turns me off a book in the blink of an eye, it's discovering that a character has said or done something completely contrary to the behavior the author has already established for said character.  I also dislike weak characters, unless, of course, they're supposed to be that way within the context of the plot.  

Needless to say, cliche characterizations are also a huge letdown.  Characters have to be original, yet, they also have to feel real.  If I can't connect to a character's feelings and thought processes, then I can't relate to that character, and, of course, he or she will not be very memorable.

There are numerous examples of great characterization, in which the reader comes away from the novel feeling moved by the joys and struggles of the protagonist.  Novels that exemplify this for me are, to cite a few, Jane Eyre, Crime and Punishment, To Kill A Mockingbird, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield.  These are all classics.  In the popular fiction genre, The Lord of the Rings immediately comes to mind, as does The Twilight Saga and the Harry Potter series.

Yet another important quality is that the plot be plausible, even if the book is a fantasy or science fiction novel.  Again, consistency is the key.  Within the given parameters of a fantasy world, certain things have to be believable.  Furthermore, if there's fantasy mixed in with the real world, as in urban fantasy, the real world has to be believable.  Cats might fly in a fantasy realm, but not in the real world, unless the author has previously established that the fantasy world has now invaded the real one, for instance.

On a more subjective note, there are genres that I simply don't like, such as erotica and horror.  I just don't see the point of having an entire plot line revolve around such emotions as paralyzing fear, or perverted sexual desire.  To me, such emotions make for a very unpleasant read!

Last but definitely not least, a book has to have a good, solid plot.  Action for the sake of action doesn't cut it; there have to be reasons for the action.  However, too much lengthy description, with nothing much happening, is liable to put me to sleep, so I think there's a need for balance.

I've concentrated on fiction in this post.  Of course, there are other characteristics to be applied to nonfiction, but I don't want to make this too long....suffice it to say that authors of both fiction and nonfiction have to engage the reader enough for that reader to continue reading the book.  They should also seek to amplify the reader's horizons in some way.  

In the final analysis, I think those are the very best books, really -- the ones from which one can learn something new.   This applies to fiction in the sense of truly original, imaginative settings, events, and characters.   In the case of nonfiction, it's the way the author presents the material, as well as the thoroughness of research done.






What do you think of my answer?
Do you agree or disagree?
What qualities do you think make a book good or bad?
Drop me a comment and 
let me know!








16 comments:

  1. Great post Maria. I think that it is a good idea for us to stop and think about not just what we like but why we like it.

    What you wrote about the consistency of characters is interesting. I know what you mean. When a character acts in a way that is unbelievable, for me, it destroys credibility in a story. This is different from when a character does the unexpected. I think that a good author can have a character do something that is surprising yet make it believable. There is a fine art to doing that verses being inconsistent. As you know I have been reading a lot of Anthony Trollope lately and he seems to be very good at this.

    Hope that your weekend is great!

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    1. Hey, Brian!

      I totally agree with you regarding consistency in characterization -- it is indeed a fine art that a good author will excel at! Since you've mentioned that Trollope is one such author, I think I should make it a priority to start reading his novels!

      I think that making the decision to call a book good or bad is a combination of objective as well as subjective factors. Some books, no matter how well-written, will not be liked by everyone, as is clear from my statements about the erotica and horror genres. However, there are obviously objective criteria that can be applied, as well. Thus my answer.

      You know, it's almost as much a pleasure to analyze the reasons we classify books as good or bad, as it is to read! I guess it's all tied up with those most precious of objects -- BOOKS!! (Of course, I am referring exclusively to physical books here. As you know, I utterly DETEST ebooks!)

      Thanks for the compliment, and the great comment!! : )

      Delete
  2. Your answer is fantastic and covers every aspect that a reader needs to consider when deciding a book was a good read or a bad read.

    Thanks for your thoughtful answer.

    Have a great day.

    Happy Hopping!!

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog Hop Answer

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    1. Hi, Elizabeth!

      Oh, thank you! I think the criteria I mentioned are ones that most readers would immediately agree with, with the exception, of course, of the more subjective opinions as to genre preferences,

      You're very welcome for my answer! Thanks for dropping by and commenting!! I will go over to your blog to comment back.

      Happy Hopping to you, too!! : )

      Delete
  3. This is a great answer! And I love how you mention it is subjective. Everyone is going to have different tastes in books and that is fine. I also love what you mentioned about consistency with characters. I get so annoyed when a character does something out of the blue that just does not fit with the character we have come to know.

    Teresa @ Readers Live A Thousand Lives

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    1. Hi, Teresa!

      Thanks for the compliment! I tried to strike a balance between objective and subjective criteria. Even though I might not like a particular book because of its genre, I can still admit that the writing might be admirable, the plot very believable, and the characterizations spot on.

      In short, I think that rating the quality of a book is really a very complex matter, and involves subjective as well as objective factors.

      Thanks for the terrific comment!! : )

      Delete
  4. I agree with the editing, really, there is no excuse. Too many characters which is confusing, where you have to think for ages: who is this now - the cousin of the neighbour of the friend of the mother…

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    1. Hi, Peggy!

      Yes, bad editing is pretty serious, especially with the kinds of mistakes I've encountered.

      As for too many characters, I think it all depends on the author's writing skills. Some authors are able to pull this off, while others aren't.

      Thanks for commenting!! : )

      Delete
  5. Great answer! Regarding your comments about language, I love prose as well. There's great beauty in language and I love the way the words take on there own life when written in prose. However, there's a fine line because sometimes it can be overdone to the point of when it becomes distracting and in some cases, a little pretentious.

    I disagree with your point on vulgar language. It doesn't bother me. People are not perfect and there are a great deal of people who use coarse language ( ... ahem, I am one of them). You can't expect to not encounter potty-mouthed people in the real world; so I accept it from the characters I encounter in the literary world. Sometimes, it adds just the right amount of emphasis to assure you that your point has no choice but to be received... and sometimes, the'yre just fun to day.Great stress relievers ;)

    I like all of your other points, especially the one about consistency with a character's personality. One of my favorite characters was so poorly represented by the author in a companion series that it felt like she completely forgot him and was just writing what she wanted. I was so ready to drive up to Canada and ask her, "why why why!!!!"

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    1. Hi, Page!

      Thanks for the compliment! As you can see, I have some very passionate feelings about this issue, which is why I decided to answer this question.

      I agree when you say that beautiful prose can sometimes be a distraction, as well as a little pretentious, when it's overdone. It takes a very skillful writer to be able to strike the right balance. Also, in contemporary fiction, long, descriptive passages are less common than they were in 19th-century fiction, for instance. I remember attempting to read "Anna Karenina" last year, before finally giving up in despair. It was because of the very long prose passages! (I also didn't like the subject matter, though, which was adultery.) Besides, those long passages were digressions, in many cases. At times I felt that I was reading a nonfiction book, as Tolstoy went off into long discussions of politics and other matters.

      As for coarse language, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. I simply can't stand it!! Yes, there are potty-mouthed people in the real world, but I don't think it's necessary to have such language in a novel. That's why the fiction I read is mostly YA. It's very rare to encounter this type of language in that genre.

      Recently, however, I did read a novel -- "Falling", by J. Bennett -- that contained vulgar language. Paradoxically, it's the same one that contains the passage I quoted above. That one paragraph is the reason I decided to read this novel, in spite of the intermittent use of "the F bomb". But I did cringe every time I came across this word in the text. I'm so glad that this author at least didn't use "the MF bomb"!

      I have to admit that sometimes I have used vulgar language myself, in cases of great frustration, as when someone cuts in front of me when I'm driving. But no one's around to hear me! Lol. I don't like to punctuate every sentence with "effing this" and "effing that". If I absolutely need to emphasize something, I use the word "freaking" instead.

      Yes, good characterization is indeed essential. Again, a skillful writer will excel at this. When a writer doesn't do this well, it can drive a reader nuts, as it did you! Lol. That's just how I felt when I read that last book in the "Fallen" series, which I mentioned in my comment to your BBH post. But you know, the second book in the series was not that good, either, in my opinion. I really should have stopped there, but wanted to see how the love story of Lucinda and Daniel would develop. I'm a sucker for happy endings!

      Thank you for such a FABULOUS comment! I LOVE it when someone leaves nice," meaty" comments on my blog!!: )

      Delete
  6. Heey
    I agree with all of your points! Bad editing just spoils the reading experience for me! I understand that self-published authors don't always have the opportunity to get an editor but they could try to spell-check themselves etc. The amount of mistakes I have found in some books have made me want to get out a red pen and start editing myself!

    A problem I have with many contemporary books is that I find their plots too contrived! I don't buy love-triangles because they don't happen that often. Also, the idea of the "girl that is different from everyone else" because she reads and is quiet just kills my imagination. And of course it is always she that ends up with a broody and mysterious man who has a heart of gold. I just need something more.

    And yes, vulgar language. At times it has its places when there is a certain character for whom it fits to speak like that, but if its just the author being rude or "down with the kids" I want to throw the book out a window. Language is such a beautiful thing, so I don't understand why you wouldn't use it!

    Thanks for your comment on my post :)
    Juli @ Universe in Words

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    1. Hi, Juli!

      Unfortunately, editing is indeed a problem with Indie authors. Someone once told me that I seem to be against such authors. That's not the case at all! I'm very willing to read books written by them. However, in my experience, Indie novels have always had these issues. And the worst of this is, the errors I've come across are the type that no educated writer should be making! Surely a writer worth his/her salt would know the difference between "there" and "their", for instance!!

      I totally agree with you regarding love triangles. This has been SO overdone!! What you point out about the quiet girl who reads and then ends up with the brooding, mysterious man is also very true! Lol. Even though I LOVE reading young adult fiction, this particular genre is full of this type of thing!

      I'm so glad we also see eye-to-eye on the use of language. English in particular is a very beautiful language, when used well. There's no need for sentences such as the one I cited in my post.

      You're very welcome for my comment on your post! Thanks for commenting back!! : )

      Delete
  7. I agree a lot with what you've said. The thing that really struck me that I didn't mention in my answer is the vulgar language, especially in the narrative. I read a book that wasn't vulgar, but instead, it used colloquial language throughout the narrative. It was like I was reading something written by a teenager who couldn't stop with the slang and overused figures of speech. It made it difficult to read.

    I'm currently reading a book in a series that I've really enjoyed. The first two books were great. The third seems to be written in a very different style, focusing a lot on philosophy. Sometimes, it gets to be too poetic. Those chapters tend to drag a lot, although they seem intelligent. It's easy to lose a reader with a total lack of tension and action, especially considering it's a science fiction novel. I'm hoping something happens soon, but not much has.

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    1. Hi, Jay!

      It's great that we agree on the subject of language! I can't stand vulgar language in novels. The use of 'the F bomb', as well as 'the MF bomb', is particularly distasteful to me. This is one of the reasons I love young adult fiction so much -- you don't find this type of garbage in a YA novel.

      As for slang, well, it can be overdone, as well. By the way, I remember reading "Tom Sawyer" when I was around 10, and having a lot of trouble with it, because Twain used a LOT of colloquial language that I didn't understand at the time. But then, Twain is one of my favorite authors, so I don't know.....maybe he's the exception to the rule. I'm sure if I went back and re-read the book now, I'd understand it more.

      The second paragraph of your comment is very interesting! I think you're right -- sometimes authors can indeed lose readers with too many long passages in which they discuss philosophical ideas. This is all well and good, as long as they don't lose track of the plot. If they do, then they risk having the reader put the book down -- and not pick it up again! This happened to me with Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina", as I stated in my reply to Page. Granted, the subject matter of this novel was not the most pleasant for me to read about. Still, I would have finished the novel if the author had not digressed so much with long passages about politics, religion, and, incredibly enough, farming!! As I was reading all this irrelevant, extra stuff, I kept wondering if Tolstoy was trying to sandwich a nonfiction book in between the pages of his novel!

      Science fiction is a literature of ideas, so I would expect to find some passages that are more philosophically inclined, in a novel belonging to this genre. Yet, such passages have to be used in moderation. A novel is NOT a nonfiction book. It's supposed to have a plot, setting, and characters. Sadly, some writers seem to forget this.... I'm going back to your blog to find out what book you're reading, and what series it belongs to.

      Thanks for commenting back!! : )

      Delete
    2. I can save you a bit of trouble. The book I'm talking about is Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead were quite good, but Xenocide hasn't interested me as much.

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    3. Hi, Jay!

      Oh, it's so sweet of you to come over and let me know! I really appreciate that!!

      Gee, it's too bad that this third book hasn't been as good as the first two...... Both "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead" have garnered great praise. But you know, these things can happen. Some authors kind of get a bit too comfortable with their own creations, and then they just aren't as careful or polished when writing a sequel.

      I've been meaning to read "Ender's Game", since I've heard so many good things about it. Of course, there are SO many other books on my TBR list, clamoring for my attention......lol. I'll keep your comment in mind when I do get to "Xenocide"!

      Thanks again for dropping by again to let me know which books you were talking about!! : )

      Delete

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