But in the end, I don’t think any of those things are really important. What is it important is whether it is a book that you, as a reader, will go back to again and again. Whether it’s a book you’ll pass on to friends and partners and children.
Lots of critics hated the Harry Potter books. They’d rather children read something else, something the critics admire. Yet I think in a hundred years time, parents will be passing those books down to their children, just as their parents did to them.
Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were not greatly loved by the critics in their time. Yet it is their books that lasted, because people want to read them again and again.
I thought about this because I’m currently re-reading the William Monk mysteries, by Anne Perry. I’ve read them several times already, and I know who the killer is in all of them. Yet I still read them over and over again, and will continue to do so. And for me, that is the mark of a really good book.
I’ve read prize-winning books and critics choice book and best-selling books. Some of them I’ve enjoyed. But very few of them I’ve wanted to read again. They’re okay books. But they are not the ones I love. The ones I love are the ones I have battered worn copies of, on the shelve closest to the sofa, where I can reach them. The ones where I already know the plot, and the words and the characters, and yet I want to read myself into their world over and over again.