Last week I told you about my experiences with two books I tried to read and couldn’t.
Over the next week you weren’t shy chiming in. I loved your comments. Each of you has a different “rule” you read by. Some read to the bitter end. One reader suggested that we subtract our age from the number 100 and that becomes the number of pages we should read before we decide to call it quits. I love that suggestion. After all, as our time on this earth runs out, so does our patience. And there are so many better books we could cherish.
I’ve truly enjoyed my stint with the Better World Book Challenge list for 2017. So far I’ve read thirteen books for the twenty-five categories. Interested in what I’ve read so far? If not, feel free to skip.
- A collection of short stories: Miss Marple Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie
- A young adult novel: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
- A book with color in the title: Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
- A book more than 100 years old: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
- A book set in a place you want to visit: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
- A book over 400 pages: Life by Keith Richards
- A non-fiction book about nature: Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray
- A fantasy novel: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
- A book by a person of color: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
- A book by a female writer: Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
- A book set in Asia: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
- A book about immigrants: The Prince of Los Cucuyos by Richard Blanco
- A book about a historical event: Her Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Still to read? A food memoir, (Oprah’s new book, I think.) A book I pick based on the cover, (Karen White’s The Night the Lights Went Out, which I’m reading now.) A book based on a fairytale, a National Book Award winner, a book that takes place in a forest, a romance that takes place during travel, a book under 200 pages, a banned book, a book of poetry, a book with a child narrator, (Flavia DeLuce) a book translated from another language, and a book that’s been adapted into a movie. As you see I’ve selected some of them already and can’t wait to get started.
Some of the books I read would qualify for two categories, but I’ve decided not to go that route. This is too much fun to rush. I can’t imagine that I ever would have plowed through a Rolling Stones memoir, or read about women trying to survive under the Taliban, or of all things, a Zane Grey western. But I have now, and loved the experience, if not always the books. I’ll find another reading challenge when this one’s completed. I think I’m hooked. In fact I think I’ll create my own. Wouldn’t that be fun?
The challenge also has me thinking about what I most appreciate as a reader. And, of course, that spills over into what I need to do as a writer. (Actually if you pursue a writing career, everything spills over into the next book or the next or even the one that might take decades to hatch.)
So for fun, here are twelve elements I look for in a book, in no particular order, gathered from my weeks of pursuing this challenge and reading a variety of books.
- Sympathetic characters I can relate to–notice I did not say likable.
- Characters with clearly realized motivations for their actions.
- A vividly portrayed setting.
- Sentences/paragraphs/chapters I don’t have to re-read for clarity.
- A voice unique to the author.
- A beginning, middle and end.
- Excellent research so I’m not pulled out of the story by mistakes. (Hibiscus, for instance, has no scent.)
- No backstory dropped in to take up pages, show how deep the author is, or serve as the author’s soapbox.
- A plot with plenty of twists and turns, and suspense that builds.
- Details fleshed out, and story shown in scenes and never regurgitated by the narrator.
- An enticing beginning that pulls me in immediately.
- An ending that leaves me satisfied all the loose ends were tied up and the world is still spinning the way it’s supposed to.
I’ve sure I’ve forgotten some that are equally important. For instance, an enticing cover and an easily read font help will determine if I pick up a book, although certainly not the quality of the writing.
Humor? Both Born a Crime and The Prince of Los Cucuyos dealt with difficult childhoods, but they were filled with tender humor that made me read on and on. Even a serious book needs places where the reader can smile.
Length matters, too. You’ll note it’s addressed in two of the Better World categories. It certainly mattered to me when I was plowing through Life, but here, too, Keith Richards used humor and his unique voice to keep me reading.
It’s time to hear from you. Tell us what you look for in a book. You don’t have to list as many elements as I have. Just tell us what matters most to you when you read. I loved hearing from you last week. Let’s do it again.
**Crankshaft Comics can be found here. Enjoy them online if you don’t get them in your newspaper.
**Today’s book links lead to Amazon.com, where I’m as associate, which means if you click and make a purchase I may get a commission. Since I don’t like to play favorites I make certain to link to every viable bookstore on my book pages.