Archive | December, 2012

What Makes a Great Book?

27 Dec

Essentially, a great book is one that grabs you on the first page and doesn’t let go, not even at the end, because you walk around thinking about it for the next couple of days.

A great book also is written with beautiful language. The author knows how to play with words to create sensations that go beyond the story. The words make you fall in love with language. This can happen in any language, and even in translations. Few novels are as beautifully written as One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but my Spanish isn’t good enough to read it in the original.

A great book has characters that make you empathize with them, even if they are nothing like you. When Sydney Carton sacrifices his life for his love in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, it touches my heart. “It is a far, far better thing . . .”

As a former English teacher, I am attracted to books with a strong universal truth. Some of my favorites are Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits, and Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts. And a new one with a strong theme of family and the secrets we all keep in The Hiding Place by David Bell.

A great book  needs to stand the test of time. It may become dated, but there is still a truth within it that means something to readers. I think of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. It never failed to delight me when high school sophomores, even within the last ten years, would say how they loved Holden Caulfield, and he reminded them of themselves.

A great book can be old, new, an established classic, or a genre book like The Hiding Place.

What are your “best books?”

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A Small World

19 Dec

I have friends all around the world, and friends who travel a great deal. I travel a fair amount, too. Communication across time zones can be an issue sometimes.

My daughter and her husband and son are in Puerto Rico for ten days, so I had to check on the time there. (An hour ahead of the East Coast.) Several family members are in California, and my youngest brother and his family live in Alaska. Currently, a good friend is vacationing in New Zealand.

Inevitably, someone will forget about the time zones and call or send a text message at what seems like an obscene hour. It’s midnight in Philadelphia when it’s 8 p.m. in Alaska, and I’m not sure what time it is in New Zealand because the International Date Line is involved. Sometimes if one of us is up late, and the other is up early, it works out.

If I remembered, I could turn off the ringer on my phone at night, but I don’t. Maybe I like that middle of the night communication. Someone far away is thinking of me.

It all has to do with the world being smaller. Only fifty ago, a letter from New Zealand or Alaska would have taken at least a week or more. A phone call would have been possible, but it would have been a major life event. Being connected is an important element of being human. We crave connection with other people. Of course, it can be carried to extremes, and electronic communication can take the place of person to person contact. But instant communication does make me feel closer to family, friends, and even strangers around the globe.

The world is getting smaller, but at the same time, it is bigger. All the electronic communication we use is just a reminder that we are one, one world, one people.