Books I Love

Diagnosing Great Books: What Makes a Book Stay With You

So, I was thinking about books the other day and my absolute love of them. Now I have been a huge reader since, well, since Dr. Seuss. But there is that turning point in a readers life when books literally change the way you look at them and the expectations you have for them.

I think that may be why I struggle at times to find a ‘good’ book, never mind a ‘great’ book. I’ve read some incredible ones and it’s difficult then to be okay with a book that’s, well, okay.

So I was trying to pin point those critical books. You know, the ones that made you realize that books could do more than just help you pass the time. Two came immediately to mind, both published back in 1990 when I was a junior in high school. (I will spare you the sad description of crimped hair, purple eye shadow, and white fringed books. Oops, sorry about that.)

Anyway, when I wasn’t holding my breath through a halo of Aqua Net or wistfully sighing over Matt Rosen (name changed to protect me), I was reading incessantly. Yup, a real social animal was I. But I digress. The two books that radically changed my expectations are The Eight by Catherine Neville and Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

Jurassic Park is familiar, of course, to one and all. Scientists re-create dinosaurs on an island and unsurprisingly, the dinosaurs break loose, trying to kill everyone on said island. But it’s not just the adventure that pulled me into the story. It was the science. It sounded so possible, providing that ‘what if’ factor. Since then, I have loved books that use science or history to pull us into a ‘what if’ adventure. It stretches your mind and opens your eyes to the possibilities. How can you not love that?

The Eight is probably not as well known, although it was an international bestseller. Ostensibly, The Eight is about a search for a chess set that spans almost two hundred years. But it is a much more complicated, and rich narrative than that. You feel for the characters and each twist and turn, leaves you wanting more. It was that very complexity that created my second expectation for great books.

So, now for a book to be ‘great’ in my mind, it must have that complexity and the ‘what if’ factor. James Rollins usually meets the criteria, as does Carol O’Connell and J.D. Robb. Oh, and of course, Michael Grant’s Gone series. What about you? What or who makes a book ‘great’ in your mind?

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4 thoughts on “Diagnosing Great Books: What Makes a Book Stay With You”

  1. It’s tough to say, and looking at my 5-star books as compared to some of my 4-star books, usually there’s not really anything I can put my finger on. It just “clicked” in some way, whether it’s all the various plot points coming together in a satisfying way, or a more personal connection with a character or an idea. (And I am with you on James Rollins — can’t wait for the next Sigma book!)

    1. I agree. Sometimes it is tough to pinpoint what exactly makes it work. I think you might be on the right track with the personal connection angle. You feel happy for the protagonist, righteous indignation on their behalf or some other emotion that gets you invested in the story.

      And I am so looking forward to the next Rollins book! Alas, summer feels so far away.

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