“Here's what I want from a book, what I demand, what I pray for when I take up a novel and begin to read the first sentence: I want everything and nothing less, the full measure of a writer's heart. I want a novel so poetic that I do not have to turn to the standby anthologies of poetry to satisfy that itch for music, for perfection and economy of phrasing, for exactness of tone. Then, too, I want a book so filled with story and character that I read page after page without thinking of food or drink because a writer has possessed me, crazed with an unappeasable thirst to know what happens next.”
― Pat ConroyEver since I read this quote by the writer Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, Prince of Tides, etc.) I have been thinking about what I want from a book. I've started a lot of books lately and quit after 30 or 50 pages and I hate it when that happens. The first thing I look for in a book is either a setting or a subject matter, or an era that interests me. There are eras that I am drawn to (the Gilded Age, the 1920s in Paris, the Vietnam War era), there are places I am drawn to (South America, Scandinavian countries, islands), and there are nearly too many subject matters to list. Those are the things that will get me to pick up a book in the first place. But to keep me reading I need more.
Recently I started a book that was recommended to me by several people. It was about a subject matter that interests me—Impressionist art—and it had good reviews. It started out pretty good but has been losing me more and more as I read. I've been trying to figure out why. The writing, while not brilliant, is not bad. But the characters, characters based on real people, are duller than dirt. This seems a little hard to believe because the real characters are not. It has made me wonder if it is a good idea for writers to try to turn historical figures into characters that one might find in any contemporary novel. Some writers can do it, of course, and some absolutely cannot.
So what does a reader like me do? I guess we give up and move on to the next book. If I read a book a day it would take me over 3 years to finish all the books on my Kindle. All of which leads me to wonder, what do I want from a book?
I want to be sucked in. I want to meet people that I care about. I want to know how they got into such a circumstance and I want to care how they are going to get back out of it. Ultimately, I want to feel good and feel that, despite having gone through trials and tribulations, there was justice or goodness or satisfaction in the end. I don't want to feel like I've been played for a sucker.
Someone once said to me, “Sometimes I like to read books about unlikable people.” That has bothered me for a long time. I keep wondering why? Why spend that amount of time reading about people you wouldn't want to spend that time with in real life? It's a mystery to me. So, I ask you, What do you want from a book? And who do you rely on to give it to you?
Thanks for reading.