Good Enough
May 8, 2006

What makes a book ... or a story or a movie ... good? Is it good because you enjoy it? Because it's enjoyed by many people?

Just what do we really mean by "good"??

I got into a bit of a conversation last night about this because someone who generally likes the same kinds of books as I do made a comment about not liking Stephen King, whereas I think Stevie-boy hung the proverbial full moon. I feel that It was an outstanding book (and I'm weird in that I wouldn't mind if it had been even longer - I know many others would prefer that it had been edited down to something more manageable). Different Seasons, Four Past Midnight, Rose Madder, Misery, The Dark Half, obviously I could keep going for a while. I do agree he's had his duds. I didn't really like Tommyknockers very much and, I'm almost ashamed to admit, I can't get into the Dark Tower books despite having the first several and repeatedly trying to get into them.

But what makes them ... or any other book for that matter ... good?

I happen to enjoy Stephen King books because I enjoy books that are character driven. That's one piece of data that makes It a good book to me. I find the characterizations astute, clever and realistic ... more points in his favor. The writing style is, again, for me, easy to read. Another point in his favor. The themes and tropes that he uses are also ones that I enjoy ... more points.

But ... what if you, Gentle Reader, don't like curse words? Well, then, that would be points subtracted for your enjoyment of It as the book has a fair amount of foul language. What if you prefer less on the characters, a faster pace and more action?

Well, then, you might not find It very "good."

You see, "good" is relative when we're talking about literature or music or movies or the like. It's not an absolute based for everyone on Ebert or the New York Times Bestseller list.

So how do we judge what is good if there are no absolutes?

Well, it's total anarchy, but it's up to each individual to make that call because, you see, it's all opinion.

You can argue that killing a person is a heinous act and should be against the law, and, therefore, helping someone to live is good. Culturally, most of the Western world would agree with that. But does it then necessarily follow that a book in which someone is murdered is also a bad book? Of course not. But why?

"As a culture, we DO have a meanting for "good", we mean "lots of people like it" [so] if good means lots of people like it, than a book that sells many copies IS a good book."

I think this premise is catagorically wrong. We are often led to believe this is true by the media and the marketers, we're enticed to jump on the band wagon and try Red Monkey Jeans or The Da Vinci Code, or the Next Big Thing.

A book, a movie, a song ... these things are not "good" and they're not "bad." We personally either like them or dislike them or some variation in between. And my thinking Stephen King is a good author doesn't make it so, nor does Mr. O'Rourke's belief that Stephen King is bad make that so either. It means we have differing tastes and opinions and that the word "good" in this context means next to nothing at all.

The Dark Half is a good book, merely means that I enjoyed it. Will you also find it "good"? I don't know. But the more we discuss our likes and dislikes with each other, the more we find people who think like us and validate us ... and the more we find people who think differently and challenge us.

And all of that, in my opinion, is good enough.

Posted by Red Monkey at May 8, 2006 9:14 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

Well said!

May 11, 2006 12:26 AM


mommyontheverge said:

Stephen King is the master of writing. His short stories are a must read for anyone eveing THINKING about writing. My favorite books from him: Misery, Pet Semetary and It. I love his short stoires as well! Thanks for the post.

May 11, 2006 1:03 PM


Marie said:

Good: holds my attention, I feel compelled to finish it.

Great: above plus inspires me to be a better person.

Red Monkey said: Oooo, nice definition for me, too!
May 14, 2006 12:17 AM
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