Today was our writers' group meeting. The subject was "What makes a good book?" What an odd subject some of us thought (well, OK I thought) but we had a really interesting morning. Only a few had chosen to write but each one was different and we had a really good discussion.
Here is my piece:-
The trouble with adjectives is that their meaning is so subjective. "Being a good girl" when you are a child really means conforming (and all the best brains tried not to conform). Every mother has a beautiful baby in her eyes, whereas you might look into the pram and think - what an odd looking little thing. So there is going to be trouble with this word "good." So let's re-write the question and ask "What makes a good book - for me?"
Now the really important word in the question is "me". Is there anyone reading this who has not had the following experience? A friend, relative, colleague, acquaintance, radio programme, someone standing next to you in the library queue holds up a book and says "this book is really, really good - I so enjoyed it." You take the book home looking forward to curling up in your favourite armchair by the log fire, with your chosen tipple in a glass by your side, a box of choccies to hand - you open the book and by the time you get to page 2 you are beginning to have your doubts. By the time you get to page 6 your dream evening has gone "pouf". You need that tipple to drown your disappointment.
So let's be perfectly clear - this is what makes a good book for ME. Don't take any of the following to heart - you are not me (Thank God for that do I hear you say?), your taste will not be my taste - and what a good job that is so, otherwise there would be huge library queues for some books while others would moulder on the shelves.
I am not a lover of too much dialogue. Everyone raved about the Harry Potter books, so I tried to read one. After ten pages of solid dialogue I knew these books were not for me. I like descriptive writing - about nature, about travel, about scenery, about people (as long as they don't do a lot of talking).
Of course I have read the classics, Shakespeare, Trollope, Dickens, Jane Austen - some of them I loved and they are on my list of good books; others I found hard going and have no desire to read again. That they are great works of literature cannot be denied, but that does not make me want to curl up in their company.
So let me list a few books which I call really good books - for me. I have read E M Forster's A Passage to India many times and never tire of it. The great Russian writers - Turgenev, Tolstoy, Pasternak - I love them. Of present day writers I would say that Sebastian Faulks's
Birdsong is, for me, one of the best books of the twentieth century. On the other hand, if I am tired or unwell and need something which does not tax me too much, I am happy to settle for Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables - all tried and trusted favourites.
What do these books have in common? Each of them tells a story with a beginning, a middle and an end (not necessarily in that order), and each is memorable enough for me to be able to recall it sometimes years after I first read it.
Some writers are able to do that for me, some aren't. Anita Brookner always stuns me with her well-written style; Hilary Mantel makes me come back for more; Salley Vickers "Miss Garnett's Angel" sits in my head like a much loved recurring dream.
I have just finished reading Adam Thorpe's "The Rules of Perspective" (Thorpe was recommended by Dave (pics and poems) so thanks Dave- there is one recommendation which was a success). Not an easy read, a harrowing subject (the fall of a German city at the end of the Second World War) - I read it one evening and when I got to bed I couldn't stop thinking about it and wanted to get up to continue reading it - now there is a really gripping book.
Now I am reading Katherine Swift's "The Morville House" about the making of a Shropshire garden. Fascinating stuff. This is a really good book. What makes it good - well I suppose it is good because I think it is so. Would you like to borrow it? Pour out a glass of your favourite tipple and curl up by a log fire with it. Don't overdo the chocolate. You will not be disappointed.
Or will you?
Sorry about the quality of the photograph - it is a pouring wet day here and I can't find anywhere to take the photograph where the flash doesn't spoil it. But you get the idea.