A Few Thoughts Concerning the Question:
As a book blogger I spend the majority of my time reading books, thinking about books, reading about books and reviewing books. I have read some books that have changed my perspective and read others that I have thought about long after I have finished reading them. So I’ve had a lot of time to consider what makes for a good book.
What, then, am I looking for? What qualities do I love in a book? What is it about certain books that make me want to discuss them months or even years later? What makes me return to a series or pick up every book by a certain author?
And the answer I have arrived at is....I don’t know. Neither does anyone else. It’s the reader who ultimately decides what makes a book “good” and this in itself presents a challenge in defining a “good” book, because every person is unique.
A captivating story and character development are key indicators, however, which explains why I would much rather read a book than watch a movie. The author also needs to be able to write the story in a way that attracts a reader and keeps the reader’s attention. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is a great writer by literary standards, but rather that he or she can tell a good story. I think the main difference between a good book and a great book is due to the ability of the author. A great book is not only going to have a good story, but it is one that is also going to be well written.
However, a good book is more than just a well-written story. A good book is a treasure trove of humanity so that no matter how often you open a page and start reading, there is still something new to be discovered. Whether it is good or great, in itself, will depend on whether, as you turn the pages, the machine begins to hum; on whether it comes alive and speaks to you.
I suppose experts consisting of writers, sociologists, psychologists, and others with a keen sense for the literary are qualified to determine great literature. And popular opinion is important, if only in terms of a books relevance to society at large. But even non-experts know a good book has more to do with what the reader needs at that given time in his or her life. The books I read while suffering through unemployment, for example, may not fall into the normal classification of a “good” book, but it was what I needed at that time in my life and I may therefore classify those books as “good.” Art is highly subjective. Which is a fact that is both wonderful and horrible. Wonderful because it means if you can find an audience for your particular approach to writing, you can be successful even if the rest of the world doesn’t like it. It’s horrible because success and what is good are entirely subjective which makes it easy to lose confidence, give up, or get distracted looking for some mythical magic formula for “writing good books” which doesn’t exist.
Perhaps a good book, is nothing more than a book that challenges who we are, what we believe, and possesses the power to change our viewpoint about something, however certain that viewpoint might be. Although, I’m particularly inclined to believe that in an age when we don’t really know how to be alone, a good book might simply be one between the covers of which we can find some temporary refuge of unanxious solitude.