Friday, August 21, 2009

What Makes a Good Book GREAT & Read, Read, Read to Your Kids! by Robert W. Walker

Not a week ago this question came up on Facebook—“What makes a book a great read for you? What makes a book not just good but GREAT? My reply on Facebook got a lot of interest and add on responses, so I then took it to KindleKorner, and as I got more and more folks responding extremely positively to my response, I placed it elsewhere, and one such place was DorothyL where I hang out a lot. I thought that was that as days passed by but then I heard from Cathy Strasser, who wrote me the response this blog will end with. Here is my post and Cathy’s responses – as she responded twice with moving emotion and a great story.

My definition of a truly great book may also be the same definition as what constitutes a classic--hold on, stay with me now. It's like this. A book or story is only as good as the lasting effect it has on a reader's mind--for instance, I can visualize in my mind’s eye just about every scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and many of the most powerful and poignant moments in James Herriots' All Creatuers Great and Small, and all his works. In fact, Herriot, for my money is the closest thing we have in literature to Mark Twain since Twain, a writer who can move you to tears and laughter within the space of a single heart beat. When James Clavell was opened up to me--King Rat was my first Clavell and onward to Shogun, I was swept away by the compelling storytelling of this master. Anything by Leon Uris as well. But in effect that is what is for me great reading, when the images an author posits in the mind have a powerful and lasting effect, so strong as to leave an indelible imprint in the mind. I can see Ahab as he strides the deck in Moby Dick any time I wish to conjure him up, and I can hear Huck's voice in my head any time I choose to hear him speak. In the final analysis, a story is only as great as the level of impact it makes on a reader.
Cathy’s response to this:

I was in 7th grade social studies (as they called it then) and reading gothic romance under the desk. Mr. Athanis (the teacher and I'll never forget his name) discovered me and told me that if I was going to read in his class, I should read something worthwhile and he gave me Battle Cry by Leon Uris. From there I went on to read everything Uris wrote then moved on to Clavell. They are still some of my favorite reads. Talk about immediately catapulted into the story! I went on to read extensively on the Holocaust and Asian cultures - inspired by the need to learn more about the worlds I'd read about.

Additionally, Cathy added:
I'm a huge believer in reading to children from an early age - any language exposure from a human voice will improve a child's auditory comprehension level, an essential tool in our mainly verbal school systems. And the really interesting fact is that it needs to be a human voice - a TV/tape recorder doesn't stimulate the brain in the right pattern for improved comprehension. Go for the rhyme-y /sing-song-y books - there's a reason "Jack be nimble" has been around so long!

I might add to that to look at the success, popularity, and timelessness of Dr. Zeuss’ books. With my son, his mother and I read to him before we left the hospital with him and every day when he was an infant in the cradle and knew naught language a word! Today he is a voracious reader and operates his own business and is a world traveler and is fascinated with all cultures of the world; and has a huge library; he is in fact a “citizen of the world” and does not limit himself in any way, shape, or form. He called me out of the blue one evening and over the phone said, “Dad, I just want to thank you and mom for not raising me in any strict form of organized or petrified or codified manner. You gave me the gift of freedom of thought.” I thanked him for saying so and we hung up. I was at a party with friends in some Chicago spot that night—with Joe Konrath in fact, and I could tell that Stephen was in a restaurant, probably his favorite—The Five Seasons in Atlanta where he lives—and it occurred to me that he’d just gotten away from a heated debate, one in which he had faced off against someone with a turgid mindset. At any rate, the value of young people reading early pays great dividends for a healthy and happy future. What always scared me in my creative writing classes were the rare students who proudly announced, “Reading (or substitute History or Psychology or Sociology or Science)…Reading? I don’t read. I just want to write (or substitute spout off).”

Rob d'Author Walker
"Dead On takes the reader's capacity for the imagination of horror to stomach turning depths, and then gives it more twists than a Georgia backroad that paves an Indian trail." - Nash Black, Bird’s Eye Views


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Readers are leaders and leaders are readers!
Yes, parents need to read to their kids at a very early age.

For me a great book is one where I connect emotionally with the characters and their plight.

L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

Morgan Mandel said...

Everyone in our family started reading at an early age and we still love to read!

Morgan Mandel

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

terrific post, Rob.

Those of us who started reading early will probably have to have our books pried from our fingers when we finally kick the bucket. Don't you think?