So what is a good book? The answer to this question is as varied as the books folks read. For the literary scholar, a good book is a classic with well written language, universal themes, descriptive settings, strong characters, and so on. For a technical type person, a good book is one filled with helpful diagrams, explicit directions, or information with a logical sequence. For a history buff, a good book is one filled with accurate historical details and thoughtful analyses of events. For first graders, good books are ones they can read all by themselves to other first graders. To many students in college a good book is one they actually read from start to finish. To a harried parent, a good book is one that allows for a little escape from obligations. To someone with a stressful or intense job, a good book is one that offers some respite and rest. To someone with more time on their hands, a good book is one that fills time and transports the reader. In other words, a good book is one that fits the reader.
Some books enjoyed by many readers vary in quality. So while I think it is important to read well-written works, I think a good book is one that is read and enjoyed and sometimes the quality is not on the classics level. Dr. Steven Stahl made this point very clear to me at a graduate seminar I attended where folks were talking about all the lofty books they were reading as graduate students. Dr. Stahl also had a variety of scholarly books he was reading, but he made the point that when he needed to just be “Steve” and read for enjoyment, he went for Erle Stanley Gardner detective stories featuring Perry Mason. The other characteristics of good books are they make one feel compelled to share and connect with other readers. Dr. Stahl and I both felt the Perry Mason books were good books because we both liked mysteries with twists and turns, intelligent sleuths, and unpredictable endings.
Although I may not agree with Mark Twain on just reading a steady diet of only well written books, I do agree a person who does not read is in the same category as a person who cannot read. I hear a lot of students say they do not have time to read, but to me that is like saying I do not have time to eat….both ideas are just ludicrous. I have spent many years trying to sway students over to the side of reading. I have crafted classes where students were required to read one non-course related book over the course of the semester. Along the way, we would share what we were reading, we would give suggestions about books to read, and we would celebrate when books were finished. In my realistic hours, I know students just saw reading the book as one more course assignment. In my hopeful hours, I think maybe I laid the groundwork for reading that later lead to more reading. I hoped students would read something they might otherwise overlook. I hoped students would read something that just allowed them to be themselves with their likes and dislikes. I wanted them to have an advantage.