There is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to saying what makes a book “good.” For me, it’s not just what the story is about but how it’s told. I’ll do my best to explain that by unraveling two very different though equally incredible books I’m reading right now.
READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline is a masterpiece of 80s and video game geek nostalgia that takes place in a dystopian future where the only escape from reality can be found via the OASIS–a massive online video game that constantly references popular video games, movies, TV shows, and bands that were important to the game’s designer–a child of the 1980s. This world-building makes the book really fun to read, but that is not the story.
The heart of the tale is the development of our ultra-introverted main character Wade, a boy from a futuristic trailer park who’s absorbed as much 80s culture as possible in order to win a contest created by the OASIS’s designer. Wade, unlike the evil cooperation racing against him, loves everything about the 80s and will use both his brain and his heart to win the contest. He is the underdog, smart, and openly flawed–it’s hard not to like him.
The writing itself including tone, voice, structure, ect. hold together well, and the book has its moments of “deep-reaching” with enough existential reflections about playing a game within a game to keep me satisfied. It’s important for all this to come together in order for me to classify the book as “good.” Otherwise, it would just be an excuse for a string of random pop-culture references a la Family Guy.
That said…the best parts of the story in my opinion are Cline’s clever combinations of 80s culture and science fiction. I had typed some examples here then erased them for fear of ruining the book. Read it.
Another excellent book I’m currently reading is LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell. It’s my third Rowell book in a row, and it makes me feel like I could read anything she’s written and love it. I tried explaining the plot to one of my coworkers but gave up because this book is less concept and more character–the kind of character that must be experienced. Georgie’s marriage is thrown against the rocks right around Christmas time, but when she plugs in an old landline phone in her bedroom, she’s “magically” able to communicate with her husband before he was her husband–her Neil from the past. Through their conversations and Georgie’s surfacing memories, we learn more and more about these characters, growing closer to them as we read.
Rowell’s power in writing is in her ability to create intimacy. Her dialogue is so on–her descriptions of the body so perfectly imperfect–I’m at a loss for words. I don’t want to use the cliché “She brings the characters to life” because I think that descriptor is overused. Until you read a book like this–that is as grounding as its title–you might not know what it means for characters to be real. And if you haven’t read a book like this in a while–if you’re only choosing books based on their concepts–you may have forgotten.
So, I am happy right now to flip back and forth between Cline, a master of concept, and Rowell, a master of character. Both of their books are “good,” well-written and whole, but what makes me ultimately say they’re good is completely different. That’s based on the book itself…kind of like falling in love. It’s sort of fitting how READY PLAYER ONE is the book I’m listening to at high speeds–rushing through the world, and LANDLINE is the book waiting for me when I come home.
What makes a book “good” in your opinion? Shout out below!
Michelle Joyce Bond