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?