The definition of a good book is a subjective thing. Some have preferences on voice styles, others may prefer those that align to their cultural/political/spiritual values, or how about those that just say they only read female writers?
In my opinion, there is a sliver of objectivity in evaluating a good read and my book club’s latest pick exemplifies this. The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster is one of the many of the author’s acclaimed works and I think it outlines what makes an extraordinary read.
First let’s address the plot. It is layered and nuanced, but not hard to follow. The main character is an old school New Yorker who internalizes difficult emotions and “pushes through” serious hardships of his life. He is a professor of comparative literature uses his work analyzing a silent film to escape. Amazingly the object of his obsession becomes the reader’s obsession too, and a critical foundation of the plot.
Second, the transitions. As mentioned above there are many parts to the whole of this story- and I will concede that towards the 3/4th of the book it becomes a bit redundant, however it is never choppy. This to me is so important. Like life, the in between elements have the context, the clues, and the depth that fill the story. Sadly, these elements are often omitted in this instant gratification society in favor of “highlights.” But when done right, the in between makes a casual reader a fan; a dabbler, invested.
And finally, the words. Modern literature seems to favor plainspoken text these days. Which is generally wonderful! Clear, concise, and social media friendly. If I am honest however, I don’t feel that this imitates life, which good novels do. Sometimes I appreciate the great classics because of their confusion, their new words and rambling phrases, not in spite of it. Communication is confusing, and it takes time and effort. Why should we cheat ourselves of the challenge? This is very Perpetual Beta of me, I know.
I will leave you with my my favorite phrase of the book below. A scene where the main character is working on a tedious French translation. Let me know what you think of Auster in the comments!
You scoop it up and toss it into the furnace. Each lump is a word, and each shovelful is another sentence, and if your back is strong enough and you have the stamina to keep at it for eight or ten hours at a stretch, you can keep the fire hot. With close to a million words in front of me, I was prepared to work as long and as hard as necessary, even if it meant burning down the house.