Readers Write

What Makes a Book Worth Reading?

by Meagan Frank

What makes a book good? Can a book be considered good if it is a great story with average writing? How about a well-written book with a less-than-compelling storyline? Do awards matter? What is the criteria you use to gauge whether a book is worth the read? Does a book have to be good to make a difference in someone’s life? Why or why not?

We asked our Readers Write subscribers what they think makes a book good.

Carrie writes:
There are many things that make a good book. I search for the content. Something that makes me learn something. It does not matter the author, or if the content is happy or good, to make it a good book. For me, if it grabs my interest, makes me think, or helps me learn something then it is a good book.

Darian writes:
A good book is more than just a well-written story. A good book is a treasure trove of humanity so that no matter how often you open a page and start reading, there is still something new to be discovered. A good book is great literature.

Experts that consist of writers, sociologists, psychologists, and others with a special sense for the literary text are qualified to determine great literature. Popular opinion is important in terms of relevance to society at large.

Amy writes:
A good book is one that makes the reader feel. It takes the reader on a compelling journey. Calling a book “good” is an opinion that can be applied to any book. I believe that a book can be considered good if it is a great story with average writing. A great story with many struggles and ultimate success can be told even when the writing is average. Some storylines are not compelling, but they are so well written that people will recommend them. The criteria I use to gauge whether a book is worth reading relate to the subject, the genre, and the author. However, I can read outside of these criteria if someone convinces me. For example, The Glass Castle was strongly recommended by a friend even though I was unsure I would like the subject (poverty/alcoholism) or genre (memoir) by an author I had never read (Jeannette Walls). I loved it and recommended it to others. If a book is written well and tells a great story, it has more of a chance of making a difference in people’s lives. However, a book need only be good to the reader to make a difference in his life.

Katie writes:
That is a tough question, to put into words the reasons why you pick a certain book to read. Unfortunately, I can more easily say why I don’t like certain books and to be honest, it is often the result of the author. Of the most recent books that come to mind: one author I simply don’t like due to her style of writing and how her characters are always women who can’t take care of themselves; one author was a poor writer and although her story may have been a good one to share, I couldn’t get past the poor writing; and the last author that comes to mind was so self-absorbed in his story that I struggled to read the story because I was put off by his ego.

But what makes a book good? A captivating story and character development are always key indicators for me, which explains why I would much rather read a book than watch a movie. The author needs to be able to write the story in a way that attracts a reader and keeps the reader’s attention. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is a great writer by literary standards, but rather that he or she can tell a good story. I think the differentiator between a good book and a great book is the ability of the author. A great book is not only going to have a good story, but it is going to be written well.

But sometimes a good book has to do more with what the reader needs at that given time in his or her life. The books I read while going through my divorce may not fall into the normal classification of a “good” book, but it was what I needed at that time in my life and I may therefore classify it as a good book.

Personally, I choose to read a variety of books and thus enjoy a wide range of books – from historical fiction to YA to non-fiction to biographies to mysteries to award winning novels – whereas I know friends who read only a single style of book or a single author and have no desire to expand their reading. The reader ultimately decides what makes a book good and itself presents a challenge in defining a good book – every person is unique.

I would be curious to see what an author thinks constitutes a good book. Similar to movies, often times the more popular books read aren’t necessarily the well written books that win awards. Would an author rather be popular and make money selling books? Or would the author rather receive awards, thus recognition from his or her peer group?”


What do you think makes a book good?

Are you an author? How would you answer Katie’s questions about what matters more: selling a lot of books, receiving peer-offered accolades, or something else?

Join the conversation in the comments section below.

If you are interested in taking part in the Readers Write column and sharing your opinion about book-related topics, be sure to subscribe to our monthly Readers Write email.

First published: January/February 2013


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