You can’t judge a book by its cover apparently, but what is the criteria for good books these days?

For me, it’s based on two simple questions.

  • Does it make me feel something?

  • Does it teach me something?

Answer no to either of those, and the book goes on the scrapheap.

The feel/teach rule has served me, and my bookcase, well.

We have limited space in our house which has forced me to be very discerning about what books I keep, and what go to the local secondhand book shop.

Only those who pass the test make it onto my shelves.


I recently finished re-reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver which is a great example of a book that both teaches and moves.

It’s the story of a missionary family in the Belgian Congo in the 1960s and charts the destruction of the family, alongside the Congo’s tragic post-colonial early years.

It’s distressing, dark, emotive and educational. I learned about a chunk of world history that I was shamefully ignorant about, and I cried over the character’s crises and calamities.

Contrast this with Small, Great Things by Jodi Picoult, which I recently read and hated.

The story of an African-American nurse who is implicated in the death of a White Supremacist couple’s baby, this was a book that desperately wanted to teach but missed the mark and instead came across as hectoring and condescending.

It also failed to inspire any feeling in me except mild rage – and considering that this was a story about a dead baby, that’s quite the feat.

What’s your criteria for a good book? Would your recent reads stand up to my test?




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