Monday, 29 February 2016

A perfect book

It seems to me that, these days, I rarely give a book a five star rating. This is beginning to worry me. What happened? Can’t I find good books any more? Have I become more critical/demanding/harder to please with age? What’s going on here?

I have no idea. However, this led me to wonder what, exactly, is a “perfect book” for me. What is it that I want? Let's see.

A good story. I don't think that one needs an explanation, but I'm very open about this one and like all sorts of plots. As long as something does happen. And that something is interesting.

Great characters. Relatable, real, with strengths and weaknesses, characters to root for, etc. etc. – you know how it goes. That’s what readers want; characters are who they connect with. And the best books... the best books make me fall in love with their characters! Mmm, nothing like a good literary crush! ;)

Feelings. This is simple. A book can be entertaining, but if it fails to make me feel, I can’t rate it among the best. Make me laugh, make me cry, make me grip the book in fear... The really good ones, of course, cause a wide variety of different feelings. The best ones have made me laugh and cry within a single paragraph. Some have made me put the book down and pace around in agony because it’s too much, I can’t take it any more!!!

Food for thought. It doesn’t have to be extremely profound or philosophical and deep, but I like it when a book gives me something to think about. Questions, ideas, a whole new perspective into things – it doesn’t really matter what; sometimes it's enough to find myself thinking about the book while, say, doing the laundry.

Beautiful writing. I know. It shouldn’t matter so much. But I can’t help it. It’s the word wrestler in me. It can’t resist evocative language, words that flow like music, phrases that are so beautiful or poignant that I have to read them again and again just to savour them. A skilful use of words alone doesn’t make a book great. However, even if everything else falls into place but the writing is flat, I can’t consider it a perfect book.

Genre? That's fairly irrelevant to me. "Fairly", because historical fiction gets extra points. ;)

How often do you see all these points come together in one book? Rarely? Hardly ever? Should I be less demanding? After all, it would take something close to superhuman skills to pull it off. Yet I’ve seen it done. Some books just are that good.

So... what do you want from a perfect book?

(The books in the picture aren't actually my favourite books - except maybe "The Shadow of the Wind", which is awesome; a book about books! - I just put them there because they look pretty. :) )


  1. Hi Ulla,

    what a wonderfully thought-provoking post. I actually read it on Tuesday, and thought I needed a bit more time to think about an adequate response, because it is such a fascinating topic very close to my heart. Well, I ended up discussing it all evening with my DH, it was a fascinating discussion and it seems I never grow tired of talking about books I love and why I love them. Luckily, DH feels the same way, maybe not quite as enthusiastically and wordily as I do, but still.
    However, I'm/we're still no closer to finding an answer to what makes a perfect book...

    You make excellent points about what you expect from a perfect book, and I agree with all of them.
    The funny thing is, if I am being honest and unbiased about it, quite a few of my very favorite books are not, in fact, perfect. Some are actually extremely flawed, but I love them so very much despite their flaws.
    The main thing I need to fall in love with a book is that it makes me _feel_. I need to be able to relate to characters (no matter how flawed they might be, if I can relate to them, understand why they feel the way they feel and do what they do, I can fall for them).
    Good characters (as hinted above) - definitely. Or let me requalify - believable characters. They do not need to be good. In fact, my biggest literary crushes are seriously flawed, and not always good guys. Or gals ;)
    And along the lines of needing a good story or plot, I'd like to add some form of conflict - internal or external -, something that challenges the characters and forces them to change, grow, rethink things.
    The writing - well, if the rest is good, I can forgive a lot in terms of bad writing ;). On the other hand, I do love a good turn of phrase, or quotable sentences, you know, the ones you keep going back to.

    I guess when defining a perfect book, it comes down to being extremely subjective. For instance, I can forgive a lot in a book if it really grabs me, if the characters speak to me, if it makes me feel. Then I can ignore typos, bad grammar, or even glaring plot-holes. On the other hand, if the characters don't speak to me, I can be extremely nit-picky and start taking apart the language, the plot and everything.

    All that, and I'm still no closer to an answer. But that is part of the fun of reading... always hoping to find that rare gem, and occasionally succeeding.

    Anyway, have a good weekend, and here's to good books!
    Hugs Kathy

    1. Dear Kathy,

      thank you so much for your lovely answer! Thank you! :) I loved hearing your thoughts, and I love the fact that my post inspired conversation between you and your DH - thank you for that, too. :)

      You mentioned many excellent points. In fact, right after I hit "publish", I started reconsidering the title of my post (but was too lazy to change it :P ) - after all, I don't mean a _pefect_ book in the sense that there would be no flaws, no room for improvement. I mean books that you can't put down, fall in love with, can't stop thinking about, want to read over and over... so that's more like a book that's perfect for _you_ rather than perfect if measured against some sort of objective standards (so, yes, completely and utterly subjective ;) ).

      That's pretty much the same with good characters. They don't have to be "good" as in never-erring perfect people, because, honestly, characters like that would be so annoying! No, they have to be flawed and they have to make mistakes because that's what makes them real. And when those realistic characters struggle and suffer and when they prevail, it feels more real, and that makes us feel... and that seems to be what we both really want. :)

      And you're absolutely right, conflict is important. It's actually essential; you can't have much of a story without conflict. Or at least it would be rather boring.

      I don't know if there is an answer to what makes a good/perfect book, since it's all highly subjective, but I certainly do love talking about it! So thank you for sharing your thoughts, Kathy. :) Have a lovely weekend! :)