This year the question came up again. It always does come up, when it’s time to choose another book for reading aloud. Where are we going to find a great book? What, in fact, would our ideal book look like?
As I began to make a mental list of the qualifications, I realized how impossibly ideal the perfect novel would have to be. We have posted several articles lately on good books. Today I want to look at some elements of great ones. This is not an exclusive list. It is a picture of my own personal preference for the kind of book which one loves.
In the first place, I want my ideal novel to be long. If you find a book you enjoy as completely as I am going to enjoy my ideal one, you don’t want it to end in a hurry. You want to stretch it out and make it last, and yet on the other hand, you want to gobble it up as fast as you can. The only solution is for the book to be as long as possible. There is an author of the early nineteenth century, whose works I have not read, but who managed to produce multiple novels of over 2000 pages. I do not know whether the content is equal to the volume, but there must have been a delightful feeling in opening the cover.
On the whole, however, I am content with a book a good deal shorter than these heroic proportions. If there is only enough subject matter to produce 300 pages, for instance, it is better to have the end come before we lose interest. It is well for an author to stop before we are tired. But it is far greater an accomplishment to keep us from getting tired, without stopping.
Thus, our ideal novel will be a good, thick, satisfying book – one which it is a pleasure to hold in one’s hand. And this reminds me of another important point. The ideal book is a delight to pick up. It is not too tall, so that we can hold it comfortably, with just a pleasant weight to remind us how much enjoyment is in store. It is a book which opens easily, and stays open easily. The leaves seem to drop into their places so smoothly that you can set it down on a table while you are having cookies and milk, and you will be able to read it without touching it with your hands.
The cover, too, is a delight in a great book. I have not quite made up my mind whether it shall be an old, clothbound Victorian volume, with a faint scent of musty attics, and wonderful swirls embossed in gold. That would be lovely, and yet it would exclude newer books, which might be a pity. Perhaps, then, it will be a paperback – the publisher will have a better chance if he needn’t charge extra for the binding. But it will have a beautiful illustration on the cover, all rich accents and golden lights, or perhaps soft, dreamy pastels; it will depend, I suppose, upon the contents. But whatever it is, it will give us an indescribable sense of the quality of the story within. It is a cover we cannot look at without wanting to open. A cover which promises us that if the story lives up to the binding, we will have found our new favorite book.
I see that this article is going to be a series. I have written all this, and we have not yet lifted the cover, and begun upon the contents of the pages. So much the better. A good article, like a good novel, ought to promise more. We’ll have to wait ‘til next week to explain what our ideal story would be about. In the meantime, what are the qualities which make you love the very outside of a great book? What makes you want to pick it up, and find out what is inside?
- Where to Find Good Books
- Good Books at the Library