What makes good so good?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
When someone asks me what my favorite book is, I usually always have a different answer because there are just so many good books out there that have stuck with me through the years. But typically I'll answer something like How to Kill a Mockingbird or some such notable book.

Harper Lee wrote an amazing story . True literature with multiple messages about the human condition. The book has layers, themes, perfect characterization, a spotless plot, so much depth you could probably write (and I'm sure someone has) twenty more books just discussing all the many wonderful points of this tale. It tugs at your emotions and sticks with you long after you close the cover.

But honestly, I doubt I'll ever read it again. The first time through, I had to read it for a class assignment, and I barely just got through each chapter by the due dates. As amazing at it was, I didn't stay up late to finish "just one more chapter." I didn't sneak it out of my purse between classes to see what would happen next. I didn't even read it within one week.

I have a copy of it on my bookshelves in nice pristine condition, the same way it was when I bought it.

But a couple shelves over, there sits another book with tattered edges, worn and frayed from how many times I've read through it.  The first time I opened the pages of this book, I read until my eyes went dry and I couldn't keep them open a second longer...and then I read a little more because I was so enthralled. I have some spots dog-eared because I like to go back to those the most.  They're my favorite.  I could probably quote a few lines...maybe a few pages of text by heart.

But I know it's not true literature.  In fact, some people would call it fluff, historical romantic crap. I don't care.  I still keep reading it over and over again. I know it's not perfect.  I know it doesn't have the depth and layers of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I know it won't ever win any major literary award. But I still keep returning to it to read it again and again...and again.

The same goes for movies.  I know Schindler's List won seven academy awards. I know it's an amazing movie. It had me in tears. But I've certainly never watched it as many times as I have Dirty Dancing, or Romancing the Stone, or Princess Bride, or even A Walk to Remember.

So this has me all curious.  What makes a story so good?  And I think I've come to the conclusion that the reader is what makes a story good or bad.

Like a painting, it's only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. I certainly wouldn't pay millions of dollars for a Van Gogh...but someone will. A book cannot reach out and connect with a reader unless a reader is willing to connect back. In the end, it doesn't matter so much how well a book is written (well, it does, but it also doesn't....clear?). A reader is not going to like a character or a plot line or the mood or theme unless that person wants to, unless it means something to her personally.

With five billion people on the planet and five billion different personalities, you're subjective little story isn't going to be adored by all. But it's definitely a precious gift when it's adored by one.

I received an  email this week from a complete stranger that said:
"Linda, Just wanted to say I loved, loved, loved 'The Right to Remain Mine'. Had to read it twice it was so enjoyable. Delightful characters, great dialog. Thank you for writing it! Your fan, Susan."

And, wow oh wow, I don't need any awards or movies made about my book.  That right there is enough for me. I could be Dirty Dancing over Schindler's List any day!


  1. Yay, what an awesome e-mail!!! I completely agree that "good" is subjective. It's like money, only worth what we make it worth.

  2. Aren't those emails just awesome! Congrats...

  3. What an insightful post, Linda - and what a lovely reader comment!

  4. Congrats on the fan mail!

    I know exactly what you mean. I just want to tell a good story that makes people feel.

  5. Well said! Congrats on such a wonderful e-mail. I bet you were skipping and smiling for days with that one!

  6. High compliments! Exciting to think that your books are touching lives. :O)

  7. Awesome! I'm with you, I think the reader can add or take away from a perfectly great story. So happy for you!