I don’t pretend to be very widely read anymore, because there are just SO MANY books out there, and I don’t have the time or inclination to consume them the way many others do. I don’t read books that are outside of my normal tastes very frequently, and even in some genres I only read a specific author. This doesn’t really bother me, though I do try to keep up with what’s new and interesting (or old and interesting!), because I have a certain responsibility to know what my chosen profession is doing, right?
So in my quest to remain somewhat attached to the comings and goings of the writing world, I still read books, and sometimes just for the sake of seeing what all the fuss is about. Occasionally, this means I read a really incredible book that is well worth the time and effort, and sometimes this means I am left in a state of wonderment that there should be anything considered remarkable about a book.
There isn’t a simple way to divide and define these books. What makes a person enjoy one story over another? It can be a case of fantastic characters, epic storytelling, or just a universal concept delivered in an accessible format. Maybe they are believable scenarios, or deep truths, or a subject you’re already passionate about. These traits don’t serve as a defining point, though. There are books that people love with honestly one-dimensional characters, then books that the same people will reject for having that flaw. I know this, because I make frank comparisons in my reading and I see myself doing it.
What makes a problem become a fatal flaw in one work, when it can be overlooked in others? Is it the cumulative quality that actually spurs our decisions, and we just put it down to the first simplified answer we come across? What’s worse, we learn all these rules about writing (that are surely for breaking!) and we appreciate why they are important, yet a book can come along and seemingly disregard all the important things you’ve ever learnt, and still be a good book.
I suppose the quest to understand what makes a story good is one of those endless, unanswerable things. Not just because everyone has their own personal taste, but because sometimes the things we love in one instance are the things we hate at other times. People are uniquely capable of these amazing contradictions. At the end of the day, there probably isn’t an answer at all. Not even to ourselves.