Tag Archives: books

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?”

Solving Mysteries at the Library

22 Apr

I spent yesterday afternoon hanging out with the reference librarian at Haverford Township Free Library in Pennsylvania. Although spending time at a library is not a new experience, this was a special event.

As a member of Sisters in Crime, an organization that promotes writers and readers of quality crime fiction, I participated in this event in order to find out how librarians solve mysteries everyday. Haverford Township is in suburban Philadelphia, and there was a steady stream of library clients of all ages during the three hours of the Saturday afternoon whenwas present.

(At left is Keegan Fink, reference librarian at work.)

While sleuths in mystery fiction often rely on their hunches to solve a crime, I soon found out that librarian frequently rely on that same intuition to figure out what a client wants when he or she asks a question. For example, people often approach a librarian saying, “I’m looking for a good book. What do you suggest?” The librarian then needs to ask a few questions to direct the reader toward a book that would be of interest, because everyone has a preference of what they like or do not like to read. They are often just looking for something new.

I also learned that at the Haverford library a client can “book a librarian” for an hour for help with a specific problem. Some common topics are writing a resume and help with technology. Many people who have new e-readers come to the library for help in learning how to use these devices.

I loved the lively atmosphere of the library, and the willingness of the staff to answer questions and just generally be of help. When a client asked, “Do you have a magnifying glass?” Sure enough, the reference librarian pulled one out of a desk drawer.

My conclusions: People are reading more everyday, both traditional books and e-book. Libraries are on top of the newest technology, but still maintain a wonderful person-to-person outlook.