Thursday, March 12, 2009

You Know It's a Good Book When...

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 was a bed of flowers! And it wasn't freezing 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"?


anne said...

I don't know that I could add much to this list!! But I know it's a good book (or a great book!) when it offers comfort in times of sorrow or change or unrest;there are books I trot out over and over in such times, and they are like trusted friends, comforting me.

Sandy D. said...

You know it's a good book when you return your library copy and buy it in hardcover (even though you're on a tight budget), because you know you're going to keep it forever.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Anne and Sandy,

Both of those are great examples and hold true for me as well! I'm going to collect all the comments from this blog entry and highlight them in this Sunday's blog. Thanks for contributing.


Sam said...

... when you discover that you have strong opinions about the book jacket -- such as when you find yourself forced to tear the bookjacket off because the character in the picture simply doesn't look like the character in your head.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Good one, Sam! Maybe that's the reason most kids' books feature headless bodies on the covers: so many people found themselves disagreeing with the way the characters were depicted that jackets were being destroyed from coast to coast. So some smart publishing house art director got the idea to remove the faces completely!


Anonymous said...

I am not a person to walk up to strangers and start talking about a specific book "out of the blue"...although I am MORE than happy to talk about books. However, I know it is a good book when I almost mow people down to get to someone holding one of my all time favorites. Why? I am SO eager to know if the person feels the same strong kinship to the book as I do.

Anonymous said...

When I was homeschooling, I recall neglecting my four children for several days while I plowed through Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence.
However, I'd say you know it's a good book when you read while you're cooking...or even driving!
Jeanne K.

Melody Marie Murray said...

When you join a society or an internet discussion group dedicated to the book. When you update the wikipedia entry for the book because it's not quite enthusiastic enough. When you refuse to see the movie based on the book because you can't bear to risk tainting the magic.

Amanda said...

You know it's a good book when you get mad at Hollywood for ruining it with a movie.

Stephanie said...

You know it's a good book when, years after you first read it, you're still recommending it to absolutely everyone you know.

Or when you wish you could hang out with the characters.

Or when you see something in a store, and it reminds you of something a character from your book would own. Good books sneak into your everyday life.

You know it's a good book when, even though the alarm is set for 7 am, it's 3 am and you're still up reading...

Anonymous said...

You know it's a good BLOG when you are posting a comment instead of eating your breakfast. What a great community of peeps you have! Excellent topic.

Womansheart on LT

dot said...

I had never even heard of Sigrid Undset until I saw this charming short film, called the Danish Poet. I haven't been able to forget her since!