The Books that Last

About halfway through February, and my reading has been slow. I’ve been doing a lot of Beta reading and reading two of my own MS in preparation for revisions later this spring. But I really need to step it up to hit the number of books I read in January.

I’ve recently taken to rating books I read. I don’t review them, or post my thoughts, but as I looked over my reading for January (mostly to make sure I hit the same number of books in February), I started thinking about what makes me love a book vs. like it, and conversely, what makes me hate a book vs. no feelings at all.

I read for a few reasons. I read to study. As a writer, I feel that’s important. I read to keep up with trends in genre, some of which I like, others I don’t like. It is what it is. Got to know to either imitate the trend or know that I can’t. Some things in my current genre really bother me, and there are things I can’t force myself to do, even for the sake of potential publication. I read to recommend books to other writers. I may see something that dovetails with a story that one of my friends is working on. Potential comp! But my main reason for reading is to be entertained.

When I purchase a book, I’m purchasing it mostly based of the premise. I expect that story to entertain me. Some books I want to re-read because I enjoyed them so much. Others are entertaining for the time in which I read them. Beyond that, I have no interest in revisiting them. Others I walk out on because they are boring. Some I finish because I feel I must (hello, I paid for that book!) but am glad I’ll never need to read them again.

When it comes to evaluating a book, I tend to be completely subjective in my opinion. I have reasons for my opinion, and some writer-terms will sneak into my review that I keep for myself. Again, some books that I hate, I will keep for study. I can glean a lot from books I hate. But when it comes right down to it, I’m looking to be entertained, particularly when I read genre fiction. I give literary fiction a bit more latitude in that regard. I’m reading it for different reasons that I read genre fiction on the whole.

So, with all that in mind, here are my criteria for “Have I not been entertained”.

  1. Has a main character that I attach to inside of the first ten pages, and it’s better if I love them on page one.
  2. That character has a strong, clear voice that permeates the prose.
  3. The character communicates the details of their world and how they see it in a clear, evocative way.
  4. There is actual exposition regarding the world. Not an infodump, but I’m not expected to learn everything about the world through the character’s experiences only. Clear, solid, worldbuilding.
  5. The plot doesn’t plod, but neither does it race and just get thicker and thicker until I get to the end and wonder why the butt doesn’t match the face anymore. (Yes, I love stakes that escalate, but not if they escalate for reasons that don’t directly involve the protagonist in a visible way.)
  6. There’s a twist in the plot. I don’t want to be able to predict the ending, or predict where the plot points will fall. I want to be surprised. I want to get to the end and experience that delicious sensation of wondering “How the heck did I not see that coming!” I want to actually be afraid that the character might not make it through. I want to worry that the love interest really won’t come back. I want to feel the crushing weight of a dilemma that will change the character’s life forever. I want to see the villain defeated and be more than a little sad about it. I want to see those subplots that were so well woven into the story impact the main plot in dramatic, exciting ways.

In many ways, the last element of my subjective analysis of entertainment is the most important for me. Few authors and few books can do this in a compelling way. Books that manage to impress me with their twists often make my re-read shelf, not just because I’m delighted with the author’s craft, but because I’m emotionally invested in the characters, their journeys, and their lives. These are the books that live on in my imagination forever. These are the books that last.

Million Word Madness Update: 12,551 words this week

(Yeah, yeah—I know I’m slacking.)

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