BookI read a really interesting article in the US version of The Guardian this week. In a nutshell, after a year of isolation at home, many authors are struggling to write–for good reasons.

While I did finish The House Guests at the beginning of the pandemic, and just finished my third novella for a new anthology featuring characters from my Shenandoah Album series, I’m one of the strugglers. Concentration is an issue for many of us, as is no refill in sight for our well of creativity. All the things that fill that well, conversations overheard, smells, travel? Gone for the moment.

Instead of writing, I’ve enjoyed reading new authors, many of whom I never had the chance to read before. I told you which books from 2020 I especially liked here.

I’m keeping a list for 2021, too, but I find this year I’m jettisoning books and authors fairly quickly because I don’t like them enough to finish. So many books and so little time is my new motto. But the process of dumping a book for something better brings to mind an important question. What makes a book worth reading?

I love the Read Along With Emilie Richards Facebook Group because I can see first hand what authors readers who probably like my books also enjoy. We don’t always agree, but I value their opinions.

Today, for fun, let’s explore what makes a book worth reading for you. And even more? What makes a book worth keeping?

Here are a few questions to get us started. Comment with your answer if you’re in the mood. There are no right or wrong responses, of course. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my writing career is how different readers are from each other. That’s true for professionals, too. I’ve been the gatekeeper for a group of published novelists who discuss books together for decades now. And the only thing I can say with certainty is that we rarely agree on a book. Some will like it, some will think it’s okay, and others will pick it apart, sentence by sentence.

So give these questions some thought, but mostly let us know what makes a book come alive for you.

  1. What’s more important to you? Carefully crafted sentences or carefully crafted stories?
  2. If you had to choose between a novelist who creates great characters or one who creates great plots (you can’t have both for this question) which would you choose?
  3. What do the authors you most love have in common?
  4. How are the authors you most love different from each other?
  5. Which is more important to you, setting or clever dialogue?
  6. Do you want a book to move quickly or slowly?
  7. How much detail is too much detail in a story?
  8. If characters espouse values so different from your own, do you stop reading or continue so you can learn more?
  9. Does theme matter or isn’t it a priority?
  10. At this juncture in history are you more interested in books with feel-good stories, or grittier tales that make you think long after “The End?”

You don’t have to answer any or all the questions. I just think it’s fun to think a little about what we love and don’t in the novels and authors we choose. I’ll give you my answer next week or soon. And yes, I’ll have to give some of these questions a lot of thought.

Have fun!

12 Comments

  1. Nancy C Lepri on February 25, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    Hey Em, here are my thoughts/answers…
    1.Carefully crafted stories are more important than carefully crafted sentences. I’d much rather read a sentence that is true to life than to have it grammatically perfect.
    2. I think I’d like the characters more than the plot because, for me, it’s the characters who drive the story.
    3. The authors I love the most are able to get into their character’s heads and make them human.
    4. Each author has their own “voice” which makes them different and compelling.
    5. I enjoy the dialogue, but I really love when a setting is described so it makes me want to be there.
    6. This is a weird one to answer. I love getting into a book and really immersing myself into it, but if I really like the book, I don’t want it to end either
    7. I love detail unless it goes on “ad nauseum” and details too much so that it takes away from the plot. I like reading about the setting, but not when it describes every single item in the picture.
    8. I’m so bad that if I don’t care for the character, I usually give them the benefit of the doubt and continue reading. I think in all the years I’ve been reading and all the books I’ve read, I’ve only put down less than a handful of books that I just can’t get into.
    9. Theme does matter to me, but I’m more into the characters.
    10. With so much violence, unrest, and uncertainty in the world now, I love stories that make me feel good…that takes me away from everyday life and the problems involved, but I also like grittier tales if they end happily!
    Phew…I hope this is what you wanted. Nancy

  2. Emilie Richards on February 25, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    It’s exactly what I wanted, Nancy. Some real food for thought here.

    • Nancy C Lepri on February 28, 2021 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks, Em. I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful weekend!

  3. Gordana on February 25, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    So here are my thoughts
    1. A carefully crafted sentence makes a carefully crafted story. I cannot get past bad grammar or a
    sentence that makes no sense to me.
    2. Great characters, because a great character can carry most plots
    3. I like a lot of self published authors or less known authors that I discovered by someone
    recommending
    4. Not very different a few write different genres but that’s it
    5. Clever dialogue. While I appreciate a nice setting clever dialogue is so much more important to me
    6. I like a book to move quickly
    7. I like a certain amount of detail so I can get a good visual but, using 3 paragraphs to describe a desk is
    maybe too much
    8. That would depend on how much I like the story.
    9. Theme is not a priority.
    10. Books are my escape so “feel good”. I don’t want to contemplate after “The End”. I’d like it wrapped
    up in a box with a nice bow thank you

  4. Coelle Baskel on February 25, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    These are real thought provoking questions….and good ones as it got me really thinking about them. Thanks for asking!
    1. I feel a better crafted story line is more important than sentence structure as long as the sentences pull you into the story.
    2. Characters
    3. Great crafted stories…and I tend to prefer stories with intrigue or suspense
    4. This one isn’t easy and since I tend to read stories in the same genre..not sure.
    5. Trying to make a dialogue constantly clever would be a ‘turn off’ to me so Setting is my answer.
    6. I do like a build up to a story but don’t want it dragged out to become tedious…so I’d go with quickly
    7. If you think of it as a conversation….my mind would start drifting if someone was going on and on with too much detail….being descriptive is important, but not to the point of losing an audience.
    8. It could be my age, but if the writing gets to the point of disturbing me, I will leave it.
    9. Theme is important as it usually identifies the genre ….and I tend toward the same genres.
    10. Again it cold be my age, but I tend toward resolved endings that leave a good feeling.

  5. Catherine Larklund on February 25, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    That’s an interesting question. I, like you, have reached a point of too many books, so little time left. My general rule of thumb is, I give a book about 50 pages. If the story has not “grabbed ” me by then, on to another in the pile. What will grab me? Character, I must like the characters. Plot, am I interested in seeing what will happen next? Writing, if the writing is less than stellar, the plot better be great. I will read so-so writing but oh, how I love good writing. I love when I have to stop to savor an excellent turn of phrase. Subject matter is variable. I will both read similar books, but I’m also delighted to find something new and unfamiliar. I adored the Mazie Dodd books, not only for the characters, plot and writing, but also for the time period. I knew nothing about England after WW1. So that was very interesting. I’ve also recently discovered the sub-gende. I’ve discovered so many categories I had no idea existed. What great fun. I keep exploring new stuff. The world building I mostly only notice if it’s badly done. Otherwise I’m just sucked in and away we go! I will stop a book in the middle. Many authors can’t keep the story going. If I get too bored, I quit. Mostly I will read the end, but if I’m particularly annoyed, I won’t even do that. I’m a, does it transport me, bring me into that world person. Perhaps because of all the science fiction and fantasy I grew up reading. Oh, the other thing that will stop me cold is certain actions. Don’t hurt animals. There are certain unforgivable actions in romance that will stop me reading. I also will stop if I get too scared or disturbed. I have a very vivid imagination and that can be a problem sometimes. I had to stop the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache books, as I just couldn’t live in that world anymore. Great books, but….. Nora Roberts Eve Dallas was another. I guess that would be examples of authors who are just too good.
    I think I prefer books that move right along.I both hate and love the “page turner”. Great to get immersed, bad it’s over too soon.
    Really, I just love to read. I’d read all the time if I could.

  6. Kathryn Trask on February 25, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    1. I like a good sentence so that I don’t notice it, because its the craft of the story I want.
    2. What an unfair question! I want both of course but if I had to choose I guess great characters.
    3.Authors have in common that I love – a good women’s fiction genre, great characters, and a good plot. I’ve just been hooked by Mary Marks quilting cozy mystery books. I am not a cozy reader but she has hooked me in. Fun characters and fun mysteries. Someone above says “Own voice”. Yes to that as well. Take Cathy Lamb she sure has her own voice, but so do others. So I’ll read paranormal too if there are great characters and plot like Nalini Singh. Generally I avoid violence so not much of that. Authors I like don’t have too much sex in their books. More closed door, probably why I like the older romance writers. Writers I like have in common that they show me someone different to myself, they get me to go into that person’s shoes. A good example of a group of women authors I enjoy are the five southern women who have the Friends & Fiction podcast, I haven’t read Kristin Harmel because she writes historical and I lean to contemporary but I will still read her. I do read some historical. Well that said I have pre-ordered Patti Callahan’s one, Surviving Savannah. Oh often the authors write series!! I love a good series. Yours for example.
    4. Well maybe different genres to some extent. Probably comes down to subtle “voice” as well.
    5. Setting is important, some settings always sound wonderful especially when you don’t live there! Like give me a story in New England or Vermont or Virginia! New Zealand is too familiar! However all that said I like great dialogue, it can really carry a book. Another difficult one to choose.
    6. To be honest I love a book that moves quickly. I think of a Karen Rose mystery/thriller! Or a Suzanne Brockmann. But a medium paced book is good too. Slow moving as in snail’s pace might lose me.
    7.When I start skipping the detail in a novel then that’s too much for me. My eye just might travel over a paragraph and get to the “good stuff”. I am poor with literary fiction.
    8. Values – I like them to align to mine – on the whole. I can’t think of the name but Jodi Piccoult has a book where there is a character who is anti black American. I wouldn’t stop because one character had differing values to me, I’d read on to see where the story/author is going with it. If a book is totally out of whack values wise I think I’d stop.
    9.Yes theme matters to me a lot. Often a book has a Lot of issues to make me think and explore. Actually if a book has no theme I’d certainly rate it lower.
    10. I like feel good stories being honest. I can tolerate some grit from time to time. I am dithering for example over Kristin Hannah’s latest because I know the Depression era story is going to be gritty. Her last book The Great Alone was rather gritty, and her ending wasn’t exactly to my taste but it was tolerable. I also have a book waiting for me by Gary D. Schmidt where he kills off a beloved character from a previous book – how could he! But of course I’ll read it. (Middle Grade book). He is an author I love. On the whole though I like warm cosy books, interspersed with ones a little more gritty.

  7. Thea on February 25, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    The only thing I really have a problem with is excessive vulgarity. A little goes a long way.
    I like a story with a quick start, good characters, and a conclusion that doesn’t kill off everybody.
    I don’t like stories that glamorize criminal behavior.

  8. Judy M Zell on February 26, 2021 at 4:05 am

    1. The stories are more important than the sentences.
    2. Tough choice, but I choose great characters over great plots, because…
    3. My favorite authors are all female and write about strong female characters.
    4. My favorite authors are Emilie Richards, Debbie Macomber, Jennifer Chiaverini, Kristin Hannah, and Mary Daheim. You differ mostly by genre, the first 3 write women’s fiction, the next 2, historical fiction, and the rest (I didn’t name them all) write cozy mysteries.
    5. Setting is more important than dialogue; I love to read books that are set in places I have visited.
    6 -7. I want a book that moves quickly without too much detail.
    8. I have already quit 2 books this year because of foul language and/or obviously immoral values.
    9. Theme matters. One of the reasons that I like your books so well is that you deal with issues like domestic violence, elder care, immigration, prejudice, etc. I prefer books about WW II and early pioneer days in the U.S. to early European history.
    10. I prefer feel-good stories with happy endings.

  9. […] Last week I asked you ten questions about what you love most in a book. […]

  10. Lynn Ross on March 11, 2021 at 11:58 pm

    1) Since I’m a former secretary and am a writer myself (never published), carefully crafted sentences are important to me. A poorly written sentence distracts and unnerves me. However, I can tolerate it if the story is carefully crafted.
    2) Since I can’t have both, I would choose a great plot.
    3) The authors I most love write well-researched, well-written stories that feature memorable characters and great plots that make me want to finish the book in one sitting. They make me feel as if I know each character personally and hate to tell them good-bye (except for the evil ones, of course). Their stories make a social statement, give me pause and educational facts. Their stories all end happily. I live real life. I want happy endings when I read fiction.
    4) My most loved authors differ in themes, settings, depth and humor.
    5) Setting is more important to me.
    6) I like a book to move fairly quickly, but I can tolerate “slow” if the writing is beautiful and makes me say, “I wish I had said that!”
    7) I enjoy detail in a story as it helps me to put myself in the story. Too much detail can be distracting and make me forget the main point.
    8) I’m comfortable with characters that are different from me because I love the uniqueness of people in real life. I like to study them and learn from them. Characters in a story can help me to understand why certain people are the way they are.
    9) Theme isn’t a priority to me. I’m the eternal student and love a theme that teaches me something new.
    10) This juncture in history hasn’t seemed to change my interests in fiction. I have always wanted escape in fiction. I still love romances that end with “and they lived happily ever after” and deeper women’s fiction that ends happily. I adore your books, Emilie. They contain all of my favorite things in a book and much, much more. They entertain me as well as educate me and make me think deeply. I know I say it a lot, but you are such a blessing to me, and you have enriched my life immeasurably.

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