What’s a good book? Seems to be a question I discuss a lot. People are always asking me for recommendations. And there’s almost nothing I like better than sitting with a fellow-reader and talking about books – what we loved as kids, our all-time favorites, what we’re reading now.
But what makes a book “good”? I read many different kinds of books. They’re all good but they’re good in very different ways. Because my days are filled with liturgy and nonfiction, in my free time I read mostly fiction and poetry. I read a lot, but my list of books read in any given month do not make a lot of objective or easily classifiable sense.
There is fiction I read because the language takes my breath away. These books push me to become a better writer. They inspire me to think more about language. The characters are complex and the writing is smart, poetic and challenging. The imagery is dense and well-drawn. The dialogue and the relationships are thick and multi-dimensional. Sometime there isn’t even that much of a plot to this kind of book, but oh, the writing.
There is other fiction I read where the writing is perhaps a little more pedestrian, a little less lush and gorgeous, but the plot is captivating. With these books it’s all about the story. I read these books when I want a story to sink deeply into, when I want to get caught up in a before and a during and an after. I read these books to find out what happens next.
And then there are mysteries, one of my (not-so-entirely-secret) pleasures. A good mystery is a puzzle to solve, along with some satisfying story-telling and compelling characters. The “why” and the “how” are much more compelling than the “who”. And yes, they’re fun. Sometimes I need a little fun, even if it comes with a side dish of murder.
So if you’re interested in some good books for the summer, here’s a recommended list of books culled from my reading list over the last month, with titles from all three of the groups above. They’re not all literary masterpieces, but they’re all good books.
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver
The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Schroder: A Novel by Amity Gaige
The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
The Book of Killowen by Erin Hart
A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths