Like most writers, I enjoy reading. I’m always in search of that perfect book, that unique piece of work that finds a special place in my heart and mind.
I’m looking for the book I will never give away, never leave behind, never forget. It can be fiction or nonfiction. It’s obviously a subjective search, changeable for every reader. There’s no predictable way to measure the perfect read, to agree on greatness. In fact, it’s hard to even define all the flavors that come together to blend the ultimate brew.
Let’s try anyway.
Legs. I don’t care about the hot genre of the day. They come and go. I want the book that has legs, that keeps its meaning over the years and decades. It has something to say that transcends the time in which it was created. What was important to the writer back then must still be important to me today. It just keeps on going, stays relevant and holds tightly onto its meaning. If the zombie apocalypse makes the tsunami of today, I’ll pass unless your zombie has something really special in store for me.
Easy read. I don’t want to trip over flowery sentences and over-polish. Sure, I enjoy a beautifully constructed phrase or a finely-tuned paragraph. But I’m not interested in only that part of the experience. I want to be able to get through the book without too much work. I want it to flow, to carry me along the story line and not distract me with glitz and fizz. Seasoned writers know this. First-time authors often get caught up in a love affair with their own words. I don’t want that love affair in my face. Keep me on the right track, move me along easily, grab me with the motion and pacing of the story line. Force nothing.
Breaking rules. Call me a miscreant, but I like writers who break the rules, so long as they don’t overload me with a manufactured style. Words and sentences are musical phrases to me. Punctuation is a way of making those phrases work well. So, go ahead and push a rule here or there. It won’t bother me at all, as long as its not fabricated or made the center of your style. Make up a word or two. That’s fine. I enjoy the uniqueness of style so long as it doesn’t distract me from the main thrust of the reading journey.
No phonies. I’ve been reading and writing all my life. I can spot a phony from thirty miles. If you’re not a sincere writer, making your art for unselfish reasons, I’ll sniff it out. Most readers will do the same. Don’t make me look at you too hard. If you’re a great writer, I will discover you for myself in your work. I must believe you’re a sincere writer to keep on reading. So, either be sincere or be such a good doo-doo slinger that I can’t tell the difference. Just remember that I’m no reader-pushover.
Move me. I want to feel that emotional side of your story, fiction or nonfiction. If I want a common, dry read, I’ll stick to cereal boxes and bug-chaser labels. If you can’t move me, I stop reading and never return. On the other hand, don’t try too hard. For me, a writer who is moved by his or her story line will also move me. It’s an automatic, transparent process. If you are moved when you write, it will shine through and move me also. If you try to force the issue, I’ll know it.
Make me wonder. I want to take something away from your words. I want to wonder about your story line, to become a part of that journey. Make me think as well as feel. When I put the book down for the night, I want to play with your words in my mind, walk along your story line in my own way, become a part of what is happening in your world. If you can do that, you’re my friend forever.
Leave me different. You can make me happy, sad, angry, whatever. Just don’t leave me the same old reader you first found. Change me in some way, even something very small and insignificant. Reshape my views, rearrange my thoughts, tweak my emotions, take me on a little ride with your words. Somehow, leave your footprint on my heart and in my mind. But don’t try too hard. If you’re going to force the issue, I’ll know right away. However, if your word journey left you changed, I’ll likely follow suit.
Make me a better writer. Show me something fresh and unique. The best of the best show me a sincere and inescapable style that I cannot ignore. These works tell me I have more to learn, more to experience. They make me a better writer because I see opportunities and alternatives. In your words, I find a new path on my own journey. Teach me, if you can, but never try to do so. Lead me by your example and unique perspective.
Be honest. Even when you’re lying to me, convince me of your honesty. Can you do that? Great writers do it all the time.
Stay behind the scenes. Hide away behind your words and never let me catch you peeking out. I don’t want you to tell me you’re back there, just waiting to grab my attention. Let your story do the talking. If you’re a good writer, I’ll find you on my own. Don’t sell me, ever.
Don’t define yourself. I don’t want you to tell me about you. I want a little mystery behind my favorite writer. Be changeable. Surprise me. You’re a big part of my reading journey, so make it fun for both of us. Even if you’re the hottest swamp gas in the literary world, stay just far enough away from my doorstep that I wonder. Let me fill in your details. Make me work, just a little bit.
I suppose this list could go on indefinitely. Time to take a breath.
These are just a few highlights and they’re obviously personal. Your goodie list will certainly be different in many ways. Great writing is ultimately indefinable. Forget the sages of word theory and the alleged experts of prose. If it moves you, if you want to keep that book forever, the writer has done his or her job.
The big take-away is ridiculously simple. Keep it real.