Seven Ages of Books (7)
In the first part of this series on Seven Ages of Books, we looked at the books and authors that influenced my very early years. In the second part, we moved forward into my teens, when I first discovered fantasy, a genre that is still one of my favourites today. In part three, I was in my twenties, and heavily into science fiction. By part four, I had reached my thirties and we returned to the realms of fantasy. And in part five, we moved to the classics and also to TV adaptations. Last month, I talked about the only non-fiction book of the series. Today we come to the end (so far). I am half-way through my seventh decade and think I probably have enough experience now to reflect on what constitutes a good book, at least for me.
For the past few years, my husband has bought and read the whole of the Booker Shortlist each September, aiming to finish them before the winner is announced in October. In 2016 I tried to join him and managed to read one, but it was so depressing it put me off reading more. Last year I did a little better, reading three from the list. And one of those was 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, which runs to over 800 pages and is essentially four wonderful novels in one. So in my mind, I’d managed six books in the month, which was pretty good, I felt.
For some people, a good book must be literary; it must be highbrow. But for me, a good book is one where the story grabs me, I care about the characters, and I continue to think about them and their imaginary lives after the book is finished. Usually, it will also be well-written, but I have to admit story trumps writing for me and there are one or two quite high profile authors I would describe as mediocre writers, but superb story-tellers. (They shall obviously remain nameless.)
For many years, while I was travelling on business, my principal reading time was on trains and planes or, quite often, stuck in stations or airports waiting for said trains and planes. And my main criteria for a book was a page-turner, that would pass the time and help me relax. There are many authors I could name here, but I’m going to pick just one: James Patterson; and in particular, his Women’s Murder Club novels. Set in San Francisco they feature four strong female protagonists: a police inspector, a lawyer, a pathologist and journalist. Together they solve murders; and in true crime thriller style, some of them are pretty grisly.
As a writer, I learned a lot from Patterson’s writing style: short chapters (perfect for reading just before going to sleep); a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter (to keep you reading – just one more chapter, instead of going to sleep); and realistic characters with human flaws and foibles, who usually win in the end, but often at a cost. I was also impressed with the concept of a group of female protagonists; and freely admit these books were one of the influences on my writing the Suzanne Jones series of thrillers, Counterfeit!, Deception! and Corruption!.
And as a reader? Well, they have lots of action, interesting characters and stories that draw me in. And that to me is the definition of a really good book.
But what about you, dear readers? What constitutes a good book for you?