As any keen reader will know, far more than other mediums such as film or TV, books are a highly personal, subjective thing. Why does your best friend love a book, and you think it is a worthless piece of trash? How can one of you get it so wrong? The answer is of course that they don’t. Yes, some books can objectively be said to bad, according to some easily defined measure – most readers can agree that anything with lots of spelling mistakes, poor grammar, contradictory plotlines and other mistakes is not a good book. But beyond that? I think it is impossible to say. You often see this with fans of literary fiction who bash genre fiction such as crime/thrillers or SF & Fantasy. But you also see it the other way round too with fans of genre fiction saying how terrible literary fiction is (I know, I used to be one of them).
So what makes one person rate a book so differently from someone else? I think the answer is that they are looking for different things in a book. Most readers don’t actively think much about what they are looking for in a book but it can be worthwhile considering this. It can help you make better choices about what books to read, and get more enjoyment out of reading. Here are just a few things people look for in a book and reasons why they read.
Escapism – This is where you are looking for books to take you away from your life for a time while you are reading, to forget the cares, worries and stresses of modern life. It is a very common thing to look for in a book. Fantasy and science fiction or historical fiction are popular escapist books, but most genres can be escapist too.
Visit new places – Most people experience a wanderlust, the urge to travel to see new places, at some point in their lives. Few people have the time, money or sometimes the ability to visit all the places they want to. Books allow you to cheaply and easily visit new places, and you don’t need to take two weeks off work to do it! Travelogues are obviously good for this, but so are novels.
Get New Experiences – This is a little bit similar to visiting new places. Books can allow you to experience so many new things – climb Mount Everest, dive into the deepest ocean, sail around the world, live alone in the woods – all from the comfort of your armchair. Books can also give you experience of growing up in a different country, doing a different job, even being an animal!
Empathy and understanding – reading books can help you better understand your fellow human beings, appreciate their drives and motivations. Literary and character driven fiction is best at this. It can even help you get on better with other people.
Indulge in Personal Fantasies – People can look to books to act out their personal fantasies, to do things they could never or would never do in real life. Take revenge on people who have slighted you, have passionate love affairs with billionaires, movie stars etc. With books, the world really is your oyster.
Adrenaline Rush – Many people like the gripping plots, the edge of the seat action, the compulsion to keep reading. This is most common in thrillers and adventure novels, but can be in any type of book.
To relax – If you are anything like me, to relax with a good book is one of the great pleasures in life. Reading can be one of the most relaxing of activities, and many people read to relax at the end of the busy day before going to sleep.
Beautiful writing – Some books seem to rise above the rest, their authors showing a such a mastery of language that it is a joy to read them for the sheer joy of the words on the page, irrespective of plot or characters. When beautiful writing is linked to wonderful characters and a great story, you have something really special.
To learn new things – Many books are read simply for the information in them, because the reader needs the knowledge they contain, but even more than that many people read not because they have to, but for the joy of learning new things and acquiring knowledge.
To help yourself – Self help books are very popular, as people try to improve themselves – mindfulness, dieting, getting on at work, finding happiness, the list is endless. Beyond that though, by reading the right kind of novels people can find help, and therapy through reading is starting to even be prescribed by doctors!
To be challenged – Perhaps you want to pit your wits against the author, solve a mystery or a puzzle. This is particularly common with crime novels and the mystery genre.
These are just some of things people look for in books, and a few of the reasons why people read. There are many more. Next time you are choosing what to read, think about what you want from your next book. It will help you choose a great book, perfect for you right then.
What do you look for in a book? Let us know in the comments.