“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
What is the definition of a good book?
I was poking around a Catholic forum today, and perused a thread where people were sharing “Good, Catholic novels.” But the conversation caught on a snag that led to many disagreements: what do you mean by “good”? A good beach read? A vision of profound depth and beauty? Something that keeps you turning the pages or something that makes you think?
I don’t think the people in the thread realized that this difference was actually at the heart of their disagreements–for example, over whether Flannery O’Connor was “good reading.”
I suppose the question is far to subjective to be neatly resolved; but to me at least, a “good book” is more than a “good read.” The latter satisfies, the former stays with you.
But I know that good books do one of two things to me, after I read them (voraciously). They leave me feeling still, like a river of water has suddenly broadened out into a deep pool; or they excite me, and I run around the house full of restless energy making exaggerated gestures.
And good books, almost always, make me want to write.
It is the union of content and craft that affects me; the story as an experienced truth. Something that makes you say: “Yes. Yes, like that.”
The quote about books comes from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which I finished reading yesterday. I came across this book on a reading list my professor, Fiona, put together for our workshop. It was originally written in Spanish, so my edition is a translation; but it is a beautiful translation. I could practically taste the Spanish breathing in it. The English itself is very poetic, and so is the story; language and content are united.
I have always been partial to books where the lives of characters intertwine and affect each other in subtle ways, and this is book that satisfies that taste. It’s also written almost like a mystery, although I wouldn’t classify it as one. The setting is rich; the city of Barcelona is like another character.
And it is a book about books. So how can you go wrong?
I can’t say that I was entirely satisfied with the ending; but the writing was excellent. I don’t speak much Spanish, but I think it would be neat to read the original.
It is the poetry of this book I admire most: how it is expressed in the setting, the relationships among characters, and the pace at which the plot unfolds. How all these things speak to you as a reader.
And if I could speak back, I would say … Yes. Like that.