Tag Archives: Reading

What Makes A Great Novel?

The following post is one I did a few years ago. Going through my file of old posts, I re-read it and decided to recycle it, as I have so many new VIP members who might enjoy it. I did a little rewriting to update it. Hope you like it.

What makes a great novel? There are as many answers to that question as there are readers.

I once read a book that was chosen by my Goodreads group. From the start, the great reviews came in. The group members were having nothing but praise for the book. One woman did not think that 5 stars, which is the max, was a high enough rating for the book.

Several other gushed that a movie should be made about it, and it turns out that a movie was made about it. I was so excited about reading the novel that I set aside a whole weekend to dedicate to it. Imagine my shock when I could barely make it halfway through, and could not stand it any more. I set it aside for a week, and then forced myself to finish it.

I could not understand why people were raving about the novel. They went on and on about how the character would not give up. You see, he was stranded in Mars and had to survive until he could be rescued. I found it exceedingly boring. It had very little character interaction as he was alone in a desert planet.

There was very little description and no action whatsoever. There was no figurative language, no mood setting, no romance, and it was full of endless explanations of the constant rigging of battery systems, H2O synthesis, and the mixing of Martian dirt and urine and feces to make soil with bacteria for growing potatoes.

The main character’s biggest complain was about having only disco music available. He showed very little emotional depth. I would have given the book 2 stars, and the group would probably have lynched me, if they could.

I can also use the example of a quirky little detective story I recently read. It had nothing but raving reviews of nothing less than 5 stars on Amazon. It was full of action and modern, snazzy dialogue, but by the end of the story, I still did not have a clear image of the heroine because the author never got around to describing her. The storyline was all!

To some readers, the story line is all. They love this book, and they would hate the D.E. Stevenson (Miss Buncle) stories I love; nothing usually happens in them. Once again, what makes a great book? My honest opinion is that the reader makes a book great.

A while back, I read a list of reviews on Facebook, done by students, on great literary works. The person who posted the list dubbed it “Reviewers Who Missed the Point,” or something like that. Someone wrote about how stupid Hamlet was, and someone else wrote about Ulysses being a horrible book. Obviously, the Facebook member who posted the list was making a point about how ignorant some readers can be, and feeling pretty smug that he or she was smart enough to understand great literature.

Well, you know what? I happened to agree with the person who trashed Ulysses. I’ve always thought it was a horrible book. Today, it would have never been published. However, I totally disagree with the one who trashed To Kill A Mockingbird.

The point is that greatness is in the eye of the beholder, just like beauty. Someone will consider a book great if it has dynamic characters who go through great transformations in the course of the story. Themes of redemption and sacrifice abound in such characterization. Characters that are neither black nor white but a little of each, flawed and yet attractive. Such is the tortured character Zadist, in J.R. Ward’s novels; he is a prime example of this duality. I absolutely love him!

Other readers will not find a novel great unless it has a strong story line as its main element; plot, plot, and more plot. Great detective stories are my favorites. I am addicted to the William Monk novels by Anne Perry because of that element. And how about Karen Marie Moning’s early Highlander series? Imagine falling through a crevice to find a be-spelled, gorgeous highlander who has been sleeping for centuries. You travel back in time to save him, but in the past, he remembers you not! Now, plot like that is hard to resist.

I, myself, need to be transported to other realms, other worlds. For me, it’s Tolkien taking me to Middle-earth, or Ellis Peters sending me back in time to a monastery in the Middle Ages or Anne Perry dunking me in the dank, cruel London of late 19th century. I love Monique Martin’s books for that reason; time travel stories are great for this.

Finally, a great book for me must paint mental pictures and do it well. Description can not be sacrificed for the sake of action. A great story must place pictures in my mind, pictures of people, of feelings, of places, of light and dark, of sweet and bitter, of beauty and ugliness. The reason I write is to transfer to your mind the things that are in mine. How can you possible grasp the image if it is not painted for you with my words?

Many writers give new authors the advice of “show, show, show, don’t tell.” Yes, dialogue moves the story. I myself use dialogue strongly and hopefully, eloquently. However, setting, mood, atmosphere, and characters need to be defined with descriptive words; otherwise, you end up with a fast-moving play where at the end, the reader has no idea how to form an image of the heroine!

To answer the original question, “What makes a great novel?”  A great novel is one that gives you what you want. One that awakens the “eye of the beholder,” taking you places where you haven’t been before. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Took or Baggins? Part 4

Chapter 4: A Short Cut to Mushrooms

  -In the morning, the friends awaken to find the elves have gone.

  -Frodo, Sam, and Pippin leave the main road and cut through the

    wilderness  just in time before a Black Rider appears.

   -The group ends up in Farmer Maggot’s house. He tells them that a dark

    stranger on a black horse is searching for Frodo.

   -Farmer Maggot gets them to the ferry crossing in secret.

Wonderful Quote:

Short cuts make long delays.

My thoughts:


There is beautiful imagery and great reading for those readers who actually love the process of reading: the enjoyment of mood, atmosphere, subtle creation of suspense, beautiful and poetic wording. Those looking for action-based, fast reading may be bored.

Chapter 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked
   

   -A short history of Buckland is given.

   -A glimpse of a Black Rider happens as they disembark from the ferry.

   -At Crickhollow, Merry and Pippin disclose that they know all about the

     Ring.

   – It’s decided that Merry and Pippin will join the quest. They all break into

     song for the third time. 

   _Frodo has a disturbing dream that night.


My thoughts: 

This chapter reminds me much of The Hobbit:  when the friends break into song unexpectedly during the bath and later after they decide to go together on the quest. 

It furthers the characterization of  Hobbits as childlike, innocent, natural creatures who are truly out of their depths in adventures. Only Frodo, in his dark and prophetic dream, seems to have a clearer understanding. It seems that maybe the possession of the ring has already affected him in ways that make him different, less childlike.

Chapter 6: The Old Forest

   -The Hobbits enter the forest and find it a hostile, cunning place.

   – The trees seem to watch the group and paths move or disappear, herding the little group

     away from their destination.

   -They reach the Withywindle, a river edged and surrounded by willows.

   -A spell renders the friends asleep. 


   -Merry and Pippin are swallowed by a crack  in a willow.  Frodo is dumped in the river 
    by the tree he fell asleep on.

   -Enter (singing) the ridiculously cheerful and colorful character  Tom Bombadil, 

     who saves the friends!

   -They arrive as guests at Tom Bombadil’s house.

My thoughts: 


Once again, this chapter is also reminiscent of a children’s tale. The dangers and evil encountered are more like those found in the telling of a fairy tale. The forest shows malice, but it does little harm to the friends. Old Man Willow tries to eat Merry and Pippin, but he is easily derailed by Tom Bombadil’s spell singing. It is almost as if the Black Riders and the Ring have been left behind. The appearance of Tom Bombadil itself is rather comic and unexpected.

Is Your Kindle Reader Full?

A friend recently complained that her Kindle reader was full of books, and she was having to store them in her computer. I was surprised she did not realize that her Kindle need never be full, no matter how many books she buys.

Normally, your book is stored both in the reader (once the book is downloaded) and in the Amazon files (cloud). Removing the book from the device does not erase it from the cloud. It’s still your book and there for you to read again at any time.

Removing a book from your Kindle device is easy. I have an old Kindle Fire HDX, but other Kindle readers follow a similar procedure.

A book that is currently being read, shows up in the Kindle Carousel. When I’m done reading a book, I long-press on the book’s cover showing on the Carousel. A check mark pops over the cover, and a panel shows at the top of the screen.

The panel gives you options to “cancel, add, or remove.” I click on “Remove.” The next options that appear are “From Carousel” and “from Device.” I choose “From Device.”

This removes the book from both the Carousel and from the Kindle itself. Your book is no longer stored in your Kindle, but it is safely kept in the Amazon cloud.

You have not lost or erased your book. Any time you want to have it on your reader again, you click on “Books,” then “Cloud,” and select the book you want. It will once again load to your Kindle reader.

You can download your book and remove it from your Kindle as often as you want, as long as you have an Internet connection, of course.

Amazon will store the books you’ve bought from them for FREE. You can have thousands of books in the cloud and keep only those you presently want to read, stored in your Kindle.

If you check the product pages of all Kindle readers and Fire tablets, under the tab “Technical Details,” you will find the following statement: Free cloud storage for all Amazon content.

This means that any book you buy from Amazon will be stored in your cloud whether you’ve bought extra storage or not. The same is true for pictures taken with the device.

Book files are very small, and hundreds of them can be stored in a few gigs if the books have no embedded video, numerous images, or graphics.

Google the question, “How many books can be stored in one gigabyte?” You will get myriad answers. I looked at my Kindle’s storage and calculated that the average book in it takes about 3 Megs. One Gig equals 1024 Megs. Dividing 1024 into the averaged 3 Megs per book, gives me 341 books.

My very simplified method tells me that I can store 341 books in one Gig.  Of course, that’s a hypothetical statement that assumes I am only storing books that take up 3 Megs each. Some take less, and books with a high image content and embedded video take a whole lot more.

Four Gigs of storage space should hold approx. 1,365 hypothetical books at 3 Megs each. If your reader is also a tablet, and you are storing images, music, games, apps in your device, then the situation changes, and your device can get full very easily. The internal programs of the reader also take a big chuck out of the storage.

My Daniel’s Fork novel has 270 pages and takes 2.2 Megs. One could store 465 of them in one Gig or 1,860 in 4 Gigs. At this point, I should remind you that a reader sporting 4 Gigs of internal storage really has a lot less because its own programming takes space.

My Kindle Fire is old. It doesn’t have the option to add a microSD for extra memory. The newer Kindle tablets do, but not the dedicated readers. The Paperwhite has 4 Gigs capacity but no microSD slot.

If your Kindle reader is full, you can take an hour of fiddle time and start removing Amazon content and keeping it on the cloud. This frees reader space for your other content.

You also have other options such as buying cloud space from Amazon or storing in various other services such as a free Dropbox account.

If your only vice is books, and they only come from Amazon, then you need nothing else. To those readers who have thousands of books, I suggest keeping most of the Amazon-bought books in the Amazon cloud, and storing those bought or downloaded somewhere else in the Kindle itself.

For those of you also saving your library to your computer, I suggest that you keep a copy of it on a USB drive and update it often because hard drives do fail.

And yes, you can store books from other sellers in your Kindle, but that is a topic for another post. I imagine many of you know all this already, but for those of you who didn’t, I hope my post helped.