The unvoiced thoughts and ideas of a septegenarian.


on April 15, 2012



I enjoy it when someone tells me about a book he particularly enjoyed but I grow weary of hearing “He’s a very good writer.”  I want to ask him, “How do you define very good?  There are, of course poor writers, good writers, great writers and exceptional writers.  How am I to judge into which of those categories to place the writer of the last book I read?


There is the test of time.  Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Homer, Plato, and dozens more have withstood the test of time for centuries.  Those we can call exceptional. How do we judge writers of the 20th century or those of the current generation?


There are a few questions I ask myself before I recommend a book to others.


Is  this book  well-composed in language devoid of redundancy, triteness and jargon? Do the words hum, not screech?  To write melodious English you must have an ear. How does it sound if read out loud? Poets frequently read their poems aloud to judge the sound of what they’ve written. Few writers can measure up to Shakespeare in this regard but a good writer is conscious of beautiful language and rhythm.


Was it persuasive?  Accurate?  If fiction, were the characters believable? This one is my nemesis.  I have a tendency  to create impossibly perfect men no intelligent reader would believe ever existed.


Did the book arouse my curiosity? Did it contain anything that sent me on a quest for more information?  In 84 Charing Cross, the author, Helene Hanff, refers to Quiller – Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Professor of English Literature, University of Cambridge.  I am grateful to Ms. Hanff for sending me in search of him.  Plato’s The Republic led to learning something of ancient Greek history.


Did the writer of this book avoid a soapbox or lectern? I’m not interested in writers who are pontifical. If I want to sit at the feet of a professor, I’ll enroll in a class.


Did this book teach me something – anything?  My fictional preference falls into the historical genre.  Books like The Source, Hawaii, Shogun and Aztec have taught me a good deal about other cultures.


            If the book was fiction, did it introduce me to a lifelong friend?  Did I feel so close to one of the characters that had he lived next door we would have spent hours together in conversation.   When I was a child,  I read Heidi.  Heidi has been my friend for some 70 years. Today I sometimes read Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb and there is a woman detective in those stories I’d be proud to call a friend.  I wouldn’t classify Spyri or Roberts as great writers but they score well on my measurement ladder.


I’m quite sure there are many more questions one might ask before classifying a writer as poor, good or great but the few I’ve mentioned are enough to give me some guidelines I think are valid.


Here are some comments made by others on this subject.


“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.” (Truman Capote)


“Don’t tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint on the broken glass.” (Anton Chekhov)


“A writer needs three things: experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” (William Faulkner)


“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock proof, shit detector.” (Ernest Hemingway)


What do you think?


Julie Rose



One response to “ABOUT BOOKS

  1. janet says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s next to impossible to recommend a book to someone unless you know what that person loves to read. How many books have been given to be, bought as gifts, lent, or recommended with the highest accolades, that I knew withing the first 10 pages, would set aside in favor of something else. OK, I admit to loving Tolstoy, but would I suggest that everyone read him? No. Just because he meets all the requirements for a great author, he’s not for everyone. I can count on one hand the people I know with whom I share almost every favorite book. When these people tell me about a book they love, I run to the library, usually setting aside the current read temporarily. Your first paragraph is right, Julie. It’s all about what we each think makes a great writer, or a great book, regardless of how well respected he is, how many awards he’s won, or how rave his reviews are. Some of my favorites have been first novels, by some unknown authors who write the kind of book I love to read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: