I have reviewed quite a number of books over the past few weeks but I thought I would take some time today to talk a little bit about what I actually enjoy in a book. Different types of books generally appeal to different people but I do feel that there are particular things that are important in all books. I thought today I would mention both the things I feel are vital to any book as well as what appeals to me in particular.
The Vital Elements of A Book:
The way I see it, there are two major elements of a book: character and plot. Everything else is secondary. If you do at least one of these things really (and I mean really) well, then people may read your book even if you don't do the other well. If you do both well, people will read your book even if you do everything else terribly. If you fail at both, well, then I doubt anyone will want to read your book.
Let me give you a really good example. A friend of mine once recommended Michael Vey to me (Michael Vey is the name of the series and the character, not the author). Now, to understand this story best, you must first understand that I tend to be a bit of a grammar Natzi (mostly about the basic stuff as I do not claim to know perfect grammar and do recognize that I personally fail in grammar all the time. It simply frustrates me when people do not know the basics.) The first book of Michael Vey is full of grammatical mistakes. In fact, it almost seems as though the author never edited the book himself nor passed it off to an editor. However, the characters are amazing and (for the most part) well developed and the plot sucks you in pretty much immediately. I would usually put a book down immediately if there were that many grammatical mistakes. I would not usually put myself through reading through the fog of messy writing. But for a good plot and loveable characters, I will do it any day.
Too many authors focus on perfect grammar, well-built worlds, or worst of all, thorough description. Ultimately, though, someone could spend 80,000 words doing nothing describing a well-built fantasy world with perfect grammar and it would be incredibly boring. What a book really needs is an exciting plot and characters that make you invested in that plot. That doesn't mean that a book should be without description but it does mean an author should not hide the fact that they do not have a good plot behind their elaborate description (something I see way too much). I love a book with stunning descriptions of the scenery, the clothing, and the characters but I will not read a book where the description makes up the majority of the wordcount.
What I Personally Enjoy in a Book:
So if that is what is important to every book, what do I find important in books that I really enjoy?
I enjoy a huge range of books. I have almost 300 books on my shelves in non-fiction, poetry, romance, adventure, historical fiction, fantasy, and so much more. Probably the only genres I will not read in are erotica and horror.
But I will always be drawn to fantasy most. I enjoy the imagination that goes into building worlds and creatures and magic systems for fantasy books. I love the fight scenes and adventure that comes with fantasy. I love the view of a cast of characters standing, weapons drawn, unlikely friends banded together to defeat this powerful enemy. It is thrilling to read (and to write).
Most of all, I enjoy fairytale twists. I don't think this sub-genre is limited to twists on Cinderella and Red Riding hood though nor do I think that the sub-genre always fits within the fantasy genre. I think that these books can be done with tales from all kinds of cultures (not just Western) as well as myths (like Greek and Roman myths) and old legends (like King Arthur) and finally, old classics (like Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespearian writings). I have barely read any of the fairytale twists that are out there and always love to read more. I love reading how each author interprets the beloved stories. I love reading the different ways that the stories are carefully (or blatantly) threaded through the books. The way the author weaves the story they are working with into the book is interesting to me and, if done well, makes me celebrate and rave about the book (Lunar Chronicles all the way). And, of course, I love the other elements brought into the book by the genre it is in (adventure, excitement, love, history lessons, etc.)
In general, though, whatever book I am reading, for the book to make it into my top list, it will have something unique. It will not be something that has been done over and over again nor will it be a series that is loved by everyone everywhere for no apparent reason. I also really like books that have just the right amount of description that is masterfully written into the book so that it doesn't seem out of place. I like to hear what the characters and scenery look like without the focus of the book being that and without being taken from the action to look at that.
Aside from this, I, of course, enjoy buying my books from second-hand book stores like Thriftbooks and our library's big book sales. I enjoy the knowledge that the book has been loved by others even before it gets to be loved by me. I love that the book is not going to waste. If there are any dog-eared pages, notes, or highlights (though I do tend to buy nice copies) I like to think they are places where the person enjoyed something there (a quote, a scene, etc.). Probably most realistically, though, I buy my books second-hand because it allows me to buy a lot more of them than if I were to buy them at $20 a piece.
I will often be in different moods for different books (love, adventure, a realistic story, a sarcastic character etc.) but these things stay consistent: a love for plot and character, a love for fantasy, and a love for fairytale twists. If you want to know what I like in a book, that, in short, is it.