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After finding a strange medallion and some maps with markings that no one in his village can understand, Braxton Bray decides to take it all to the Hall of Scholars in the kingdom's capital. But greed is everywhere. Braxton and a tough young female caravan guard named Nixy are forced to run for their lives, for someone else wants what Braxton found and is willing to go to great lengths to take it from him.

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Author Topic: What is a "Good" Book?  (Read 7561 times)  

Online Jan Hurst-Nicholson

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #25 on: June 17, 2017, 06:30:45 AM »
Bottom line: if I become aware that I'm reading a book (rather than being immersed in a story) then it's not a good book. 

Quite. If you're admiring the words and the writing style then you are unlikely to be immersed in the story.

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Offline Nic

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #26 on: June 17, 2017, 06:45:05 AM »
Quite. If you're admiring the words and the writing style then you are unlikely to be immersed in the story.

That entirely depends on what you read, and what for you read. "Immersion in the story" is only one possible goal. I doubt that, for example, a lot of people read epistolary novels or poems for the immersion only.

Offline Doglover

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #27 on: June 17, 2017, 06:52:33 AM »
Quite. If you're admiring the words and the writing style then you are unlikely to be immersed in the story.
I'm reading a book right now which, from the very first sentence, impressed me with its style of writing. But, now I'm halfways through, I'm realising that I have just read a whole page and the author has told me absolutely nothing. I go over it again and discover that the birds were singing, the leaves were green and the sun was out. I didn't even notice those things the first time round.

I'm still enjoying the book, but I am skipping over loads because I don't care what colour the birds were or whether the river was swirling.


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Offline LilyBLily

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #28 on: June 17, 2017, 07:03:18 AM »
I'm reading a book right now which, from the very first sentence, impressed me with its style of writing. But, now I'm halfways through, I'm realising that I have just read a whole page and the author has told me absolutely nothing. I go over it again and discover that the birds were singing, the leaves were green and the sun was out. I didn't even notice those things the first time round.

I'm still enjoying the book, but I am skipping over loads because I don't care what colour the birds were or whether the river was swirling.
But if the birds were singing to the heroine, or she was knee-deep in the river, you would.

Offline Piano Jenny

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #29 on: June 17, 2017, 08:38:47 AM »
I almost started a thread with this exact title a few months ago. I find it both amusing and slightly frustrating when I so often read advice like, "The first step is to write a good book."

Really? Gee, I'm so glad you told me that. The first thing I'm going to do now is throw out this crappy, horrible book I've been working on and get to work on writing a good book. Thanks, you're a lifesaver!

The other thing is that, like you said ... What does that even mean? I've seen some very popular authors that I've read their stuff, mostly to learn from them, and I can barely finish the book, it's so bad. I don't mean it's "not my thing," I mean that, to me, it's really poor writing and/or storytelling. There is one popular indie author in particular that I'm amazed how successful they are. To me, their books are cringe-worthy and read like a fourteen year old's rough draft ... but lot of people love them.

So what do I do with that? Try to emulate them because readers have loudly declared them to be "good books"? Decide that my writing opinions are different from the masses and just ignore it? Give up hope as a writer?

But as far as actually answering the question ...

I tend to like books that have an air of mystery to them; some sort of "secret" or only half of the story that makes me want to keep reading and find out what's really going on. For example, I like Liane Moriarty a lot, and The Girl in Cabin 10, because there are so many unknowns that need to be pieced together. There was a Laura Lippman book that was really compelling called What the Dead Know.

Or I like funny books, but funny is really hard to do well, IMO. I like Sophie Kinsella a lot, but don't like a lot of other books that are supposed to be like hers.

Even if a book will keep me turning pages though, I may not think of it as a "good" book, though. Just like some movies that are fun aren't really Oscar-material movies.

For example, I just finished reading The Silent Sister and couldn't put it down because of that "secret" factor, but the end was really stupid and somewhat unsatisfying. So to me, for a book to be truly "good," it has to resonate at the end. Some feelings I can identify with. I particularly like movies/books/etc that have some believable redemption or relationship healing in them. Or something I'm still thinking about weeks or months later, like an Anne Tyler or John Irving book. That doesn't happen too often.


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Offline Dpock

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #30 on: June 17, 2017, 08:38:53 AM »
Beyond "page turner" and "can't put it down" good luck finding a true consensus. There are also whiffs emerging of the thread locking literature versus genre debate.

Developing a consensus on what makes a crap book might be more useful. Is it due to uninteresting characters and storylines, weak plots, leaden writing, endless expositions, zero emotional resonances, unimaginative phrasings?

The chink in the armor of that analysis is there are plenty of commercially successful books that are poorly written but have page-turning plots. They're not necessarily good books from a literary standpoint, but that's not important.

What makes a good commercial book regardless of genre is it usually has a strong plot driven by interesting characters. It may also have literary value. A book with a weak plot occupied by flat characters will probably not be a commercial success, though it could be brilliantly written and have high literary merit.

What makes a "good book" is nearly impossible to pin down among a broad spectrum of readers, but what makes a commercially successful book is less difficult to deconstruct and agree upon. My vote here is, the book must have a riveting plot and interesting characters that evoke an emotional engagement from the reader. At the moment I can't think of a best seller that doesn't cover those bases, but I can think of plenty of good books that aren't bestsellers that don't.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #31 on: June 17, 2017, 09:07:10 AM »
It might be better trying to discover what makes a book a 'classic' - one that is enjoyed by generations of readers.

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Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #32 on: June 17, 2017, 09:27:27 AM »
Unfortunately, a good book and a successful book are not always the same thing.

For me, I read books that I like and believe are good (if not great) and try to use them as a basis for what I'd like to write.  I love Mary Stewart books and while I don't have her level of descriptive prose, I do try to get that same balance of romance and suspense with some of my stories.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #33 on: June 17, 2017, 10:11:11 AM »
Depends on what you mean by 'good'.

Good can mean in a literary sense according to literary pundits.

Good can also mean something personal, as in Book X was sooooo goooood I stayed up all night to finish...

If we're talking in general, a good book is one that you enjoy so much you keep reading it to the end and say ahhh...

Period.

Note that this means "you" and not "me".

What I read from start to finish is different from what you might read from start to finish and say ahhh...

Sales and good are two different things that can often overlap.

Books that sell like hotcakes and continue to do so i.e. are evergreen usually are good to a lot of people, who bought them and talked about them enough that other people bought them, etc.

In other words, good is in the eye of the beholder.

Sales are much easier to discuss in any objective fashion.


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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #34 on: June 17, 2017, 10:52:40 AM »
First I have to say that I am pleased the way the discussion has been going so far.  This is something that's been on my mind for a while but I feared the routes such a discussion could take and it was perhaps only the lowered inhibitions at the wee hours of the night, er, morning that this was even posted at all.  Even then I made tweaks to the original post in the hopes of staving off any wording that might be misconstrued.

Second, on fiction vs. nonfiction, I think there is some merit in incorporating storytelling into a nonfiction work, but there's also a (subjective) fine line.  When done well, it can hold your interest in the nonfiction work better than dry but straightforward detailing of facts.  But, if there's too much story, it can have the opposite effect because you're thinking, get to the facts already!

On the subject of page turners, on the one hand, it strikes me as a bit odd than I will sit through a lousy, even predictable, movie just to see how it ends whereas I will abandon a boring book.  But, there's a time investment.  A movie is only about two hours while the book may be longer (depending on length and how fast you read).  Plus, with a movie (at least when watching at home), I can do other things at the same time.  It's not as easy to multitask when reading a book.

And, as has been mentioned, we shouldn't conflate bestselling books with good books.  Some are both; others are not.  Let's say there's a book titled Lousy Bestseller and it consistently ranks in the top ten in its genre.  Something, then, is resonating with readers, but what?  That's sort of the gist here and almost impossible to answer with a fictional example.  But, while Lousy Bestseller continues to sell, you buy it and start reading it but it doesn't do anything.  It doesn't draw you in.  You're only turning the pages because you have to, because you hope that maybe other readers are more patient than you and the page-turning will kick in on the next page or the next or maybe the next chapter.  The plot is contrived.  The characters are bland.  The writing is mediocre.  Yet, the book sells.  Why?  Is it actually good and you can no longer recognize it?  What is it about that book that keeps it selling?

Is it the marketing?  But the marketing only gets the book in front of you.  Maybe the marketing convinces you to buy the book.  But once you start reading it, the marketing is done.  At that point, it's up to the book to hold your interest, to keep you turning the pages, and to entice you to buy the next in the series (if it's a series).  But if it's not doing that, then what is the explanation?

Some might say the question is, why do bad books sell?  I'm not sure that's it.  If a book is selling, something has to be resonating with readers so is it really bad?  Maybe the writing is poor, maybe the characters aren't compelling and so on, so it seems like a bad book but there must be something good about it, else people wouldn't continue to buy it.  And if you could figure out that elusive "good" in those books, and improve upon them, maybe you can do as well or better than those authors are doing.

There are also whiffs emerging of the thread locking literature versus genre debate.

I certainly hope we can avoid the types of discussions that would get the thread locked because I think the thread has been useful (and civil) so far.
       
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Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #35 on: June 17, 2017, 11:04:11 AM »
I had a similar question about a best seller, so I asked my friend.  It turned out that it wasn't the obvious things that drew her in.  It was that the heroine was not perfect...far from it.  She was flawed and it made my friend feel like this story could happen to her.  (Of course, the hero was perfect) but I found that interesting.

It doesn't change the way I approach my stories, as my main characters have a lot of good qualities, but they are never perfect.  However, it did make more sense as to why a book I didn't find at all interesting might be doing so well on the best seller's list.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #36 on: June 17, 2017, 11:20:09 AM »


On the subject of page turners, on the one hand, it strikes me as a bit odd than I will sit through a lousy, even predictable, movie just to see how it ends whereas I will abandon a boring book.  But, there's a time investment. A movie is only about two hours while the book may be longer (depending on length and how fast you read).  Plus, with a movie (at least when watching at home), I can do other things at the same time.  It's not as easy to multitask when reading a book.



But you can just flip to read the ending  ::)

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Offline ShayneRutherford

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #37 on: June 17, 2017, 11:32:56 AM »
For me, a good book does four things. 1) it allows me to immerse myself in the story, 2) it gives me characters that I want to spend time with, and 3) it gives me enough conflict/suspense/mystery to keep me turning pages until the end. And then, if the first three things are in sufficient quantity to get me to the end, and the conclusion is satisfying (i.e. not stupid or full of plot holes), I will consider the book to be good.
     

Offline Shelley K

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #38 on: June 17, 2017, 11:33:17 AM »
It doesn't matter how the book's written as long as the writing is correct enough and invisible enough to get out of the story's way. I notice more errors than lots of other readers, so I'll put a book down long before a lot of other people. And some folks, no matter how much they love a book, don't read it in one sitting for various reasons. So the writing and speed of reading are super subjective criteria. What makes a good book for me in those regards is a pretty narrow definition that I don't think applies to the general "most readers." In fact, I think many writers get in their own way by assuming things that bother them matter half as much to their readers.

The story's what matters, and whether it succeeds or fails, in my opinion, hinges on one thing--the emotions the readers feel while reading it.

A good book makes the reader feel something they anticipated feeling when they opened the book, or it makes them feel something they didn't expect but are just as pleased about experiencing. The feelings readers want vary by genre, but I think it applies to everything. Yes, even the littiest of litfics out there, where the feeling is nothing more than satisfaction at reading beautifully crafted sentences. Someone will argue with this, probably pop up and say books don't make them feel anything, it's purely an intellectual exercise with no emotion attached. If that person exists, that person is the rare exception. Storytelling is about making people feel things.

No matter which books you consider good, if you analyze what they made you feel and why you're a long way toward figuring out what other readers want in a good book, too. Book you hated? What did it make you feel and why? Book you didn't love or hate? Analyze how it made you feel, and you'll probably find you didn't care enough to feel much one way or another.

I don't think it's much more complicated than that.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2017, 11:42:06 AM by Shelley K »

Offline dgrant

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #39 on: June 17, 2017, 12:13:58 PM »
What makes a good book? When the things that are good are so good, they weigh more in the mind of the reader than the bits which are bad or boring.

(Seriously, no book is perfect in every way for every reader.)

What are the things?
Pacing - if you can't put it down until it's done.
Characters you root for / empathize with / want to be.
Awesome and immersive world - this isn't just Scifi & Fantasy. Can you make us feel like we know the trout-fishing river that runs through Montana as the characters do, the trenches of WWII, the cocaine-fueled glitz of 80's Miami Beach, the antebellum south, Regency England...
Author Voice - When readers really just enjoy the way this storyteller tells stories (there's only one Terry Prachett.)
Plot - a story that makes sense, and fulfills the promises it makes to the reader
Tone - some people want something comforting and uplifting; others want dark and gritty. Or sexy. Or whatever.
Learning Curve - is the reader thrown into the world and expected to pick it up, or gently introduced to a world and anything that might be different? (What readers prefer varies by genre as well as by readers specifically.)

...and so much, much more.

One thing I've learned is to look at a book that many people love not with an eye to its awful parts, but saying "What about this is so good that people really like it?" Because if people really like it and I can't figure out why, then the author's clearly doing something right that I haven't figured out yet.



Offline Dpock

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #40 on: June 17, 2017, 01:10:04 PM »

One thing I've learned is to look at a book that many people love not with an eye to its awful parts, but saying "What about this is so good that people really like it?" Because if people really like it and I can't figure out why, then the author's clearly doing something right that I haven't figured out yet.

Distil the commercial essence of books like 50 Shades, Da Vinci Code and Jaws and you'll understand what can make a book hop off the shelf. That won't necessarily turbocharge your career. If only it was that easy - and thank God it's not. Anyway, knockoffs are also-rans and are seldom huge successes. That won't stop authors with visions of kid wizards from dancing in their heads.

The books mentioned above proved that writing talent beyond basic competency wasn't necessary for their success. They seemed to touch on a potent human trifecta of sex, faith, and fear from relatively fresh angles. I can't speak for 50 Shades, but the other two were good stories (the kind you save for long flights). Along with my earlier post in the thread, I'm proposing that a good, unique plot is central to a commercially "good" book, a factor that can nudge superior writing talent off the podium nearly every time.

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Offline Decon

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #41 on: June 17, 2017, 01:13:21 PM »
It doesn't matter if it's fiction, genre or literary, or even nonfiction. A "good book" (apart from the Bible being so named) is one that satisfies a particular reader's expectations. A good book doesn't have to go on and achieve commercial success. It's in the eye of the beholder.

You can try and deconstruct it all you want for your given genre/type, to get to the nitty gritty of how to put it together, but readers expectations covers it all.

If you write a thriller, then craft each chapter and the acts of the plot to readers' expectations for the genre. Ditto with Romance and so on.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2017, 01:30:56 PM by Decon »


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Offline Dolphin

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #42 on: June 17, 2017, 02:27:40 PM »
The other thing is that, like you said ... What does that even mean? I've seen some very popular authors that I've read their stuff, mostly to learn from them, and I can barely finish the book, it's so bad. I don't mean it's "not my thing," I mean that, to me, it's really poor writing and/or storytelling. There is one popular indie author in particular that I'm amazed how successful they are. To me, their books are cringe-worthy and read like a fourteen year old's rough draft ... but lot of people love them.

So what do I do with that? Try to emulate them because readers have loudly declared them to be "good books"? Decide that my writing opinions are different from the masses and just ignore it? Give up hope as a writer?

That's where I think you have to read the reviews and try to pluck out what's working for the readers who do enjoy it. It's a challenge, but I guarantee that those writers are doing something well.

Just don't turn into that ill-fated, self-loathing Bachelor[ette] contestant who says, "If that's what he's looking for, then I shouldn't even be here!" People like all kinds of different things for different reasons.

I tend to like books that have an air of mystery to them; some sort of "secret" or only half of the story that makes me want to keep reading and find out what's really going on. For example, I like Liane Moriarty a lot, and The Girl in Cabin 10, because there are so many unknowns that need to be pieced together. There was a Laura Lippman book that was really compelling called What the Dead Know.

Here, I think you're getting at the narrative drive that I was referring to upthread. We typically think of this stuff in connection with thrillers or mysteries, but it's important to keep dangling questions in front of the reader in every genre. That's why lovers have secrets in romance. That's why Snape turned out to be the best character in Harry Potter.

We keep turning pages because we need to know more. No surer way to kill that than to overshare and spoon-feed too much information to the reader.

Offline Laran Mithras

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #43 on: June 17, 2017, 02:42:31 PM »
It's often suggested to read the topselling books in your genre to get an idea of reader expectations.  I sometimes find this counterproductive.  There are some books that rank highly, maintain that rank (or close to it) over time, and have decent numbers of positive reviews that I have purchased in order to study them and better understand reader expectations only to come to the conclusion that readers must expect to find mediocre writing, to notice an apparent lack of a hook to pull the reader into the story and to be bored out of their freaking minds before reaching chapter two.

Yet those books sell and continue to sell in spite of the fact that they are so, so boring or even just plain awful.

Same boat here. I am stunned by the absolutely horrid writing, construction, and craft of most bestsellers.

I think Mercia nailed it: better marketing.  ::)

Offline Acheknia

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #44 on: June 17, 2017, 02:57:59 PM »
'You're havin a larf, mate' as they say in the East end of London when you ask for 'Quiche Lorraine' in a transport Cafe. :D
 :D

Either that or 'Yer 'avin' a giraffe, mate' :)

I think that a good story may be different for different people, or even the same people at different times.

'That book was brilliant, I couldn't stop laughing'
'Oh that was really sad, it made me cry but it was so good'
'I kept trying to work out who had done it, every time I thought I knew, somehow they had an alibi, I certainly didn't expect that twist in the end, that was a really good book'

Just a few examples, so 'write a good book' is not great advice when 'good' can mean something different according not only your taste but also your mood and what kind of story you feel like reading at the time :)

Offline Bookread

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #45 on: June 17, 2017, 03:07:07 PM »
For me, any book that makes me want to re-read it is a good book. I've read some Robert Jordan books 3 or 4 times.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #46 on: June 17, 2017, 03:20:52 PM »
So I am left to wonder if it's just me.

Yes, I think it's you, and me, and every other reader. Like most readers, I've started bestsellers that I hated (and follow and love many bestselling authors), started books with few or no reviews or mediocre review average, loved them, and read every page (and dumped some before finishing page 1). I've continued with something not very well written because of a compelling story. Yet there are a few hot button things that can have me instantly quitting a book. I see it in the reviews of my own books. One person says they love a book and reread it annually, another thinks it's so-so, and another says DNF.

So while "write a good book" is good advice, I think the reason emphasis here on KBoards is on covers, blurbs, and marketing is because one can be more specific about them. Even experts in traditional publishing can't pin down good in the sense of a very high percentage of readers loving it.






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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #47 on: June 17, 2017, 03:22:39 PM »
I think it's important to ask whether your beliefs are adaptive or not. If you think that ultimately, nothing matters but marketing, what implications does that have for your career? What are the implied tasks as you try to improve your own work? If you believe that there's no way to lay out even remotely objective criteria for success and improvement, how should you proceed?

Perhaps you think these beliefs are simply true. I'm skeptical of that. Truth is...elusive. Instead, ask whether your beliefs are adaptive, and whether your actions are consistent with them. Ask whether your beliefs have been helping you to improve in the areas where you're striving. Be ready to challenge your own mental model if it's not helping you to excel.

For me, any book that makes me want to re-read it is a good book. I've read some Robert Jordan books 3 or 4 times.

Ah! An excellent example. I labored through the first third of The Eye of the World before dropping it with a sigh of relief and never looking back. Personally, I thought it was exactly the kind of stultifying, derivative, wish-fulfillment nonsense that causes people to sneer at fantasy and nerd culture. That doesn't matter. Nobody cares what I think.

As someone who's working in Jordan's genre, I have to check myself and understand why his books succeed with fans like you. The most correct, most useful answer sure as hell isn't "better marketing."

Offline Al Stevens

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #48 on: June 17, 2017, 03:30:57 PM »
It's been said every time this question is asked. A "good" book tells a compelling story. I didn't want to put "The Da Vinci Code" down. Yet writers and critics tell me Dan Brown isn't a good writer and doesn't write "good" books.

The quality of art declines as the mass of its consumption rises. That statement is seldom received well but I believe it. The common denominator of any art lowers with its increased availability to the common consumer.

But perspective drives any assessment of quality. I've written dozens of "good" books. Just ask my family.

Offline Mercedes Vox

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #49 on: June 17, 2017, 03:43:58 PM »
Plus, with a movie (at least when watching at home), I can do other things at the same time.  It's not as easy to multitask when reading a book.

Sure it is. They're called audiobooks.  :)

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Romance provocateur. Manic stealth author. Fearless gourmet. An epicurean anarchist relentlessly in pursuit of a foolproof cure for ennui. Committed (thrice).