When Elizabeth Borton de Trevino won the Newbery Award for I, JUAN DE PAREJA in 1966, she told a story about reading Sigrid Undset's KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER as a child:
I got hold of the book first. I sat in a corner with that novel and could not do anything but wash and dress mechnically, eat what was put in my hand, sleep reluctantly, and read, for two weeks. Next, my sister seized the book and she was tended, as I had been, and relieved of every household task and duty until, sighing, she turned the last page. Then my mother said, "All right, girls, take over. It's my turn." And she never moved or spoke to a soul until she had finished it. My father did not care. He was rereading, for the tenth enchanted time, the African journals of Frederick Courteney Selous, the great English hunter, and while we were in medieval Norway, he had been far away in darkest Africa, with all the wild forest around him. That is the kind of family we were.
I have never read KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, but after hearing that account, I really want to go out and get a copy. I love hearing stories about the power that books have to transport and change us. Many blogs ago, I mentioned my own reading of Gary Pauslen's DOGSONG. At first I wasn't too impressed with the novel, but a little later I went outside and noticed snow on the ground and felt a cold wind blowing past. Then I did a doubletake. The white stuff on the ground wasn't snow...it was a bed of flowers! And it wasn't freezing outside...it was the middle of June. DOGSONG had transported me from the midwest in summer to the Arctic in winter. Now that's the sign of a good book!
A very old lady once told me that she knew she was reading a good book when she couldn't set it down -- even to perform household tasks. "If I'm reading a good book," she said, "I have to prop it up on the windowsill to read while I'm washing the dishes."
Here are a few other "signs of a good book":
You know it's a good book when it keeps you reading past your bedtime. ...And a great book will keep you reading until dawn.
You know it's a good book when you take it into the bathtub with you...even when you're taking a shower. (Hey, it was a paperback.)
You know it's a good book when you can't stop wondering what happened to the characters after the story ends.
You know it's a good book when you take it with you on your fifteen-minute coffee break...then don't return to your desk for four hours.
You know it's a good book when you feel compelled to read it while eating dinner. Even though you have a dinner guest.
You know it's a good book when it continues to make you laugh or cry even the second time you read it.
You know it's a good book when it reveals something new and surprising even on the third and fourth time you read it.
You know it's a good book when you dream about the characters.
You know it's a good book when you're reading it on a bus or subway...and end up missing your stop.
You know it's a good book when you pre-order the author's next title six months before it's released, hoping that it will be even better.
You know it's a good book when you happen to see a copy on the shelf at a bookstore or library...and feel like you've just run into an old friend.
You know it's a good book when you feel PERSONALLY OFFENDED when you hear someone else criticize it.
You know it's a good book when you find yourself carrying it around even after you've finished reading it, just hoping that someone will ask you about it.
...And a great book is one that you carry around -- in your heart and in your head -- for the rest of your life.
What are your own "signs of a good book"?