What do you look for in a book?

I’ve been wondering recently what people look for in books, why they read or how they decide what to read. Kinda like snowflakes, i think– no two answers are the same. Here’s an example of what I am reading, and more specifically, why I am reading it.

I am in the midst of reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch. There isn’t a superlative I can safely apply which would do it justice. It’s a wonderful , strange and all-encompassing reading experience I am slowly savoring. On the one hand, it’s a well-established classic. Of course, it’s “good,” right? But, wait.This morning, I stumbled on a brief testimonial to Middlemarch’s greatness from none other than Francine Prose.

Take a listen.

The bit of Prose’s tribute, which especially peaked my interest, was her story of “succumb[ing] to the more juvenile pleasures of starting a long novel and knowing that, for hundreds of pages, I was going to be transported to a place where I was glad to be, and surrounded by all new neighbors whose fates I wanted to know.” She contrasts this “pleasure” with Virginia Woolf’s now rote description of Middlemarch being “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

This really struck me.

I think this ability to straddle the line between these two demands is what I find most rewarding in novels. Furthermore, I think it’s a quality particular to novels. Great writing affords you the opportunity to give in, and become fully immersed in somebody else’s reality. The very thing Woolf praises about Middlemarch is Eliot’s ability to illuminate displays of truth, beauty and humanity, which hold up a mirror to life as “grown-up people” struggle to live it. in the meantime, the satisfaction of spending time with characters while facing these truths is what offers the burgeoning reader somewhere inside that eternally gratifying knowledge: there is more to come.

Yeah, I am primarily a novel person. And, this is what I look for in a book.

Why do you read? What do you look for? Let us know in the comments.

–Josh

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