“I admire anybody who finishes a work of art, no matter how awful it may be.”
Like Kurt Vonnegut, I admire anyone who writes a book and presents it to the public. However, there are some books I prefer to others. If I were to organize the books I have read on a continuum ranging from the worst to the best, they would form a bell-shaped curve.
The books I think are really bad are as rare as the books I think are really good; the majority of the books are in the median range. They all contain the usual elements of a story: setting, plot, characters, and conflict. There is an additional element in the books I love, which I call the “gift.”
#1. The Setting ~ When and Where
The book is written in one of my preferred genres: fantasy, science fiction, detective mystery, society/culture, and young adult.
#2. The Plot ~ What and How
The book’s basic conflict has a purpose: a question to answer, a problem to solve, a mystery to unravel, a secret to reveal, a destination to reach, a goal to attain.
The story is not convoluted with excessive plot twists, side stories, tangential subplots, or trivial information. It is not overpopulated with insignificant characters. It does not contain scenes of graphic or gratuitous sex or violence.
#3. The Characters ~ The Who
The book’s characters are interesting enough to justify making an emotional investment in them. I can identify in them one of the nine personality types of the Enneagram. There is at least one complex character. I also prefer that the main character(s) operate out of the neocortex once in a while. If all the characters operate out of the reptilian brain or mammal brain, they seem generic and predictable to me.
#4. The Conflict ~ The Why
The story has an overarching goal and it addresses issues pertaining to life and human relationships. It has an explicit or implied thesis statement that leads to critical thinking, metacognition, and/or inquiry.
#5. The Gift ~ The Wonder
This is the book that tells Lucy’s story from Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Reading it refreshes the spirit. It stirs one’s intellectual honesty, emotional maturity, and volitional capacity. It has a joie de vivre – a sense of humor, humanity, and the “homeliness” described by C. S. Lewis in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.
Amazon Star Rating
★ = I hated it. The book promotes, justifies, and/or glorifies hatred, violence, anarchy, injustice, oppression, and any other evil.
★★ = I did not like it. The book has tiresome characters, an uninteresting plot, graphic and/or gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity. It is poorly written and evokes apathy.
★★★ = It’s okay. The book has reptilian and/or mammal brain characters and the basic elements of its genre. The plot and the writing are dutiful, familiar, and predictable. (Note: Most bestsellers are in this category.)
★★★★ = I liked it. The book has enlightened characters and an interesting plot. It is well-written for its genre. It evokes sympathy and/or empathy and is emotionally mature and intellectually honest.
★★★★★ = I loved it. The book is overflowing with magic, wit, wonder, and joie de vivre. It engages, enlightens, encourages, empowers, and edifies.
This is how I evaluate books when I write book reviews. It is subjective in that the ratings are based on my taste and preferences. However, I think that I can apply it objectively to any and all fiction books.