Thursday, February 4, 2010

What makes a book good?

To say I was disappointed with Chetan Bhagat's "Two States- the story of my marriage" is to put it mildly. The book had the potential to be really good, but Bhagat, I felt, had squandered the opportunity and had produced something very pedestrian. Most of the people I interacted with agreed with my assessment.

But everyone else seems to disagree. On the train, the other day, I counted six women reading - four of them were reading 'the' book. And they were a mixed bunch - a fifty-ish lady in a stark cotton saree, a girl either in, or fresh out of college, a thirty something professional in an Indian outfit, a thirty something professional in a Western outfit. They pretty much covered the entire gamut of 'types' of people on the train, and they were all reading the same book!

The same thing repeated itself the next day, and the next. In an entire week of observation, I did not ever find at least one lady on the train reading the book- often there were several. If that is not fame, what is?

People like me who are fastidious about what they read; who want a good story well told; who want believable characters and not cardboard cut outs; who want situations they can relate to and not steriotypes - people like me feel let down by the book. But the people who do not normally read, seem to love the book.

Which leads me to question what makes a good author. Is it someone who writes a book that book lovers cherish, or is it someone who gets people reading. Chetan Bhagat does have a management degree in marketing - perhaps he deliberately writes the kind of cliche ridden books that he does write, because the mass market is his target market.

Does popularity excuse a book not being 'good'?


Ann Elle Altman said...

You raise a really good question. I would like people to read my book and go it's good. But sadly, I have read many popular books that were crap. I don't have the answer. The people who put the books on the shelves don't ask whether the book is good, they ask if it will make them money.


Anonymous said...

Good question! Many people find reading 'difficult' and enjoy light reading, or popular books. Other people - like me and you perhaps - enjoy working at a book and expect it to say something to us.

As I get older the less inclined I feel to waste my time on badly-written books...

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think there need to be different levels of books...beginners, intermediate, expert. Really. We need the James Pattersons of the world to pull folks into the bookstore who wouldn't usually go there. But we also need authors who write thoughtful literary fiction for readers who are looking for a challenge. The lit fic doesn't sell as well, so here's hoping publishers will still be able to publish the wide variety they do now.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Anonymous said...

I think a good author offers something fresh, new, and exciting for readers. Character development and team dynamics among individuals is important in order to distinguish them from characters in other series like Alex Cross or Jason Bourne. I like to make characters dependent upon one another. I'm not much into developing loners.

Stephen Tremp

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Anne- ideally, wouldn't we all like a book that is good, and which sells. But I guess it is easier to get a book that sells sold than a book that is merely good. More's the pity.

@ Fiona - totally agree with you. Life is too short to waste time reading a book which is not going to give you anything.

@ Elizabeth - you hit the nail on the head. I guess we do need the James Pattersons and the Chetan Bhagats to create the market for books, and to allow publishers to be able to afford to publish books that are good, but which may not make money.

@ Stephan - I can't but agree with you. I would have to read a book where I don't know the characters - whether I like them or not, is a different thing, but I have to understand them.


Related Posts with Thumbnails