The Reader’s Memories Make a good book a GREAT BOOK
by Robert W. Walker
As an author who writes 1 for money, 1 for art…I am ever curious of such questions. So when 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 responses, I placed it elsewhere, and one such place was DorothyL. There I heard from Cathy Strasser, a fellow reader and author, who wrote me the response this blog will end with.
Here is my post and Cathy’s responses – as she responded with moving emotion and a great story.
But first my own definition of a truly great book: It 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 Herriot’s All Creatures 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, Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, and many more 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 /singsong-y books - there's a reason "Jack be nimble" has been around so long!
Back to me: 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).”
Robert W. 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 back road that paves
an Indian trail." - Nash Black, Bird’s Eye Views