Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Defining "Good"

Good is one of the most ambiguous words, yet one that is hard for a reader and/or a reviewer to escape. It's a multi-purpose word. And it can mean whatever you want it to mean, essentially. But it's hard to sometimes convey your intended meaning with the interpreted meaning sometimes. The context is key, of course, but it's still a slippery word.

Good can mean average, better than average, or slightly better than average.
Good can be a polite form of "it's okay."
Good can mean enjoyable or pleasurable.
Good can mean it's worth your time and/or money.
Good can mean that it's something you'd feel comfortable recommending.


There are good books that are "good" because they're junk, they're fluffy, they're predictable, they're formulaic, they're just right. There are books that are like potato chips and candy bars. They're good in that comforting and indulging and satisfying way.

But sometimes good is followed by silent and implied partners. Words like "but" and "enough." Good isn't necessarily good all the time.

It's good but not great.
It's good but not for me--it's not my kind of book.
It's good (objectively, quality, style) but not one that I connected with or enjoyed.
It's good but not something I'd want to read again.
It's good but not enjoyable, not comfortable.
It's good but a little disappointing. I was hoping for more. Wanting more.
It's good but not timeless. It's here today, gone tomorrow. Not worth keeping in print.

It's good enough that I finished.
It's good enough to read once. (But it's forgettable.)
It's good enough for a library read. (But I wouldn't want to spend my own money on it.)
It's good enough for a light and fluffy read. (But lacks substance and quality.)
It's good enough that I'd want to read the sequel.
It's good enough that I'd read that author again.
It's good enough to spend your time on. (But it's not an award-winning, life-changing, must-read.)
It's good enough that you're not embarrassed by it, ashamed to be seen reading it or discussing it, but it's not making your top hundred any time soon.

Good doesn't necessarily correlate with a book being quality (literature, literary worth) or being popular. It can mean either. It can mean both.

The problem with words like "good" or even words like "like" and "love" and "enjoy" is that they can be so bogged down in the subjective that they have little objective value. Recommendations and reviews whether given on a blog, an Amazon (or other bookseller site) or in person, are always going to be subjective and personal.

I've found this to be true, and maybe you have as well. But sometimes it all comes down to being in the right time and place for a book. Your reaction, your personal reaction--love, hate, like, dislike, whatever--is sometimes dependent on all of the little small (and sometimes moody) details of your life. Your state of mind, your expectations, your mood, your atmosphere. A book may not be working for you when you first pick it up. Sometimes you just have to put it down and go with something else that is. Then hopefully a week or a month or six months later you can go back and have it be the moment for that book. I don't like to force a book. It's never a good idea to force a book. It definitely doesn't do the author much justice. Though sometimes, especially if this 'disconnect' happens more than once, it might be the book. Might. It's usually in these cases where I then look up reviews online to see if I'm the only one having trouble getting into the book. Am I the only one feeling that way, responding that way. That can let me know if it's me or the book.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 comments:

Jeane 5:01 PM  

Those kind of qualified "good" books you mentioned above are the ones that get a "3/5" in my rating system. Ones that don't need a silent qualifier get 4's and up. I have many times found that a book may be "good" but I am just too distracted, tired, etc at the moment to properly get into it. These sit on my shelf to be tried again later, and often I am pleasantly surprised to like it much better the second time! Enjoyment of books (and thus my response/rating of them) can be so, so very subjective!

bottle-of-shine 11:13 PM  

It is, so far, the only thing Orson Scott Card and I agree on besides "ENDER IS AWESOME" because we'd have a glare match over anything else: "No book can survive a hostile reading."

He said it in an article, or a speech; I'm sorry I don't have citations for you, but I always thought it spoke true.

Debi 5:40 AM  

Wonderful post, Becky! You really nailed down why I hate writing book reviews. Because I hate to think that I might discourage anyone from reading something, simply because I might not have been in the right frame of mind when I read it. (And I also hate the idea that I might cause someone to go spend their hard-earned money on a book that they end up hating.)

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I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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