Friday, August 25

What makes a book good?

While waiting for a top-secret, aka public, meeting of the New York Inquirer to begin, I cruised the Barnes and Noble a block away. It was raining, so I took my sweet time checking out the staff recommendations on the first floor (the escalator was out). On each shelf — fiction, non-fiction, classics, New York, "interesting," etc. — I saw two or three books that I have read.

My responses intrigued me. For instance, I saw The Effect of Living Backwards by Heidi Julavits, a book I did not enjoy while I read it - but its themes are burnt into my head. I also saw two David Sedaris books, Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, books I remember loving, but I can't recall a single episode from either of them. Sedaris may be a bad example, because his writing is purposely disposable, but what to make of Julavits? My experience with her book is almost the opposite of what I'm going through now with The Great American Novel. For whatever reason, I'm kind of having a rough go with it, but I only have good things to say about it, whereas I plowed through TEOLB despite my disdain for a lot of what was going on. The tricky part is that I remember a lot of it, and I would say it's a good book if you want to see the effects of shame. In some ways, it's kind of like Anchorman. I like quoting Anchorman, but I've never found it particularly funny when I watch it. That's obviously a strike against it, but with its sticking power, how big of a strike is it?


LTS said...

And this is why I haven't had an original thought on this blog since, oh, never. You guys not only monopolize the best ideas, but actually find a way to make them accessible. (Already I can hear you guys thinking, 'Find a way? You mean that this is hard to do?!')

Anyway, I was just concocting a post along these very lines. Well, sort of. The title I was hoping to elaborate on in a post was this one: "On Reading for Pleasure & (Not-So-)Crappy Books." The would-be post was (obviously) inspired in part by Bryan's confessed fondness for 'crappy books'; in part by the offhanded remark by my roommate that a person giving up television, newspapers, radio and Internet on 'principle,' should have to give up books by that same 'principle'; and finally, in part by the Franzen essay I alluded to a few weeks back. If you can't guess, the post was to be a critique of the notion that reading is in some sense a special or privileged activity, perhaps even along the lines of being an 'intrinsic good.'

And now here Bryan raises a related question much more directly--what makes a stinking book so 'good', anyway?

It just so happens that, coincidentally, I've also been going back to and ruminating on some excellent dissertations engaged primarily with the broader question of which Bryan's is just one specific application (the question, 'What is good?'; the thinkers, Moore and Geach, who critiques Moore; my suggestion, read Soames' survey on modern philosophy as I don't pretend to be qualified to recommend or endorse philosophers).

The idea I took away directly applies to Bryan's question, and I hope I can convey it succinctly. To wit, 'goodness' (certainly as it applies to a book, at any rate) is necessarily 'contextual,' or perhaps better, 'goodness' is always 'with respect to some (other) end and, implicitly, for some (other) person, people, or thing.' Geach, who was perhaps the first to emphasize this conception of 'goodness,' is more fastidious: his idea is that 'good' is never a 'predicate' or 'predicative adjective' but always an 'attributive predicate modifier.' (I know, blah, blah, blah, but I wanted to give credit where credit is due.) Not surprisingly, this is hardly an obvious concept, but it is exciting and powerful, I think. Translated roughly, then, things are only 'good' when they are 'good *for something (else)*.' (I think Moore would cry, 'Fallacy!' but we can discuss whether he would be right or not another time.)

I suppose I should step aside and wait for Book-Looper reactions at this point, but I can't resist at least venturing an answer to Bryan's question. Thus, what makes a book 'good' is that it contributes or is conducive to some (other) end or interest, generally with respect to some person or group of people, if only on a comparative basis (i.e., versus other books). Some books are 'good' for Ben, then, for the pleasure they give him (and I can't resist noting that those same books might not be 'good' for Louis in this same respect). A book might be 'good' for Republicans if it helps them win an election (and presumably 'bad,' then, for Democrats). A book might be 'good' for Bryan if it is heavy enough to keep the door open on a windy day or the light on in his kitchen (you have to know about the light in his kitchen to understand this). Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that some conventions have developed that are often implicit in assessments of 'goodness' with respect to books--among other criteria there is the pleasure a book can afford, the intellectual challenge it can present, the learnedness it might evince, etc. These are therefore answers to Bryan's question as well, but to show that such 'conventions' are truly a separate concept, consider how such 'conventions' have changed over time (e.g., theater critics once obsessed over the 'three unities' (action, time and place?) and I suppose we should be happy that they don't anymore or at least not to such a degree).

Of course, any example of this kind is necessarily an abstraction and an oversimplification (to say nothing of potential charges of 'metaphysical nonsense'), but I hope this is one interesting way to frame the discussion, although I expect and hope not the only way. Obviously a lot depends on what we decide 'good' means--for the sake of historical context, and to give Moore his fair play, one of his ostensible insights was that 'good' cannot be defined at all (perhaps not even in the way that Geach defines it) and yet we might still know 'intuitively' what 'good' means! Moore 'intuits' a very specific meaning, but if we are to answer Bryan's question, perhaps we must all 'intuit' our own. I know, I should stop before I hurt myself.

Thanks, Bryan! That was a 'good' post.

LTS said...

Addendum (I'm serious)

Two points that are keeping me from sleeping (and yes, I know that this is a Friday night):

(1) Most importantly, I have to confess to mutilating Geach, or at best, misleading the reader. The conception of 'goodness' put forth is decidedly the 'idea *I* took away' from my perusals of Moore, Geach and Soames (hard to believe, but I'm having to add emphasis after the fact to my own words). Geach would probably have emphasized the fact that 'goodness' is 'contextual,' whereas, for lack of a better word, I emphasize its 'instrumentality.' Take my book as 'good' doorstop example. Geach would say that I'm talking about a 'good doorstop' not a 'good book'--in fact, the book might be very 'bad.' As it happens, Geach's conception as applied to books is somewhat related to the 'conventions' of literary merit I alluded to somewhat dismissively; these 'conventions' would in part constitute the appropriate or at least accepted 'context' in which books are to be evaluated. Suffice it to say, I like my interpretation better, and not only because I still think that it is a book that is 'good' when it is holding the door open for me. Sure, it could just be verbal confusion, but I think there are far graver ambiguities with strictly adhering to Geach's conception as I understand it--as I noted above, this 'context' is hardly a stable notion. I note a mild irony in that Moore famously divided all ethical questions into 2 categories--What is good? and What conduces to those (intrinsically) good things? I suppose my mutilation of Geach is just as much, if not more, a mutilation of Moore, where I simply ignore the possibility of questions of the first type.

(2) Bryan's question could be taken another way (we should all have been so lucky; believe me, this is not fun for me either). Specifically, when Bryan asked "what," was he also implying "when" or was he more interested in the "how?" I answered the "why" question the best I could. Probably the more interesting question, though, is the "how." Ben, you might take over from here, discussing the merits of a recognizable style, literary innovation, the proliferation of striking metaphors, a memorable scene, a surprising plot twist, a character the reader can strongly identify with, etc. Thus can one speculate as to whether, why, and to what degree these features and others (consider some of the very different merits of a reference work) conduce to, for example, the pleasure or satisfaction attainable from a book, by virtue of which, I argued, a book can be 'good.'

And if you've made it this far, I look forward to your harshest criticisms. I am deserving.

Ben said...

A good book is a book that finds the right reader. It is as simple as that. Geach would agree with me, in part, right?

What makes a book good for you is a separate question that only you can answer.

What makes a book good for the masses is a still another question, this one having too many answers to bother with.

The notion of sticking power is something that resides on the periphery of “goodness.” There are so many reasons that an idea, a scene, or an entire plotline can linger in your head. I often find that the films I react negatively towards are the ones I that I wake up thinking about the following morning. The ones that are merely good are good and I move on. The ones that I love I remember always. But why do I waste time considering things I don’t like? Am I trying to convince myself that I really do like them? Am I searching for something, anything to appreciate about the film? I don’t know, but some movies that are not good have incredible staying power. Books, on other hand, I do not have such a relationship with. If I dislike a book it is forgotten.

I, too, remember almost nothing from Me Talk Pretty One Day. I've mentioned how much I am enjoying the Murakami short stories that I've been reading. I enjoy these stories because they are bizarre, fun and disposable. They are valuable only insofar as they provide me with smiles during the short period of time we're acquainted. I think that a Sedaris essay or a Murakami short story might be disposable due in large part to the role of the reader. When we read something that we expect to be light and inconsequential we set ourselves up to be lazy readers. A lazy reader will not pass a reading comprehension quiz years down the line. When we read something we expect to challenge, inspire, or make us think, we offer it with more of our brain: It is not disposable because we don’t treat it as though it is disposable.

Perhaps an example everyone can relate to: The Da Vinci Code. The single most disposable book I have ever read. For others, so much staying power that they own piles of books about the book. I read it and by the time I returned the copy to my father it was forgotten. Meanwhile, my father has read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the illustrated Da Vinci Code and the Gnostic Gospels. We both thought it was a good book, but clearly his brain was more generous in terms of welcoming in the plot's particulars. Neither response is better than the other and it’s a good book by any measure I know. It seems as though staying power is entirely up the individual and his or her expectations.

Of course there is also the issue of when we engage in a work. In a different mood or at a different time in our lives, we are certainly likely to have a vastly different response to the very same book. For the author there is no accounting for this: the expectations, the concentration of the reader, the mood of the reader, the place the reader is at in their life.

LTS said...

'What makes a book good for the masses is a still another question, this one having too many answers to bother with.'

Oh, how I love the haughty disdain! Or can we at least pretend it was haughty disdain, because it's so funny for me to recognize a familiar astuteness, formerly attirbuted to Benny G's bank shot, now manifested as a delicious superciliousness, which you know I don't take seriously and probably in fact hallucinate for my own entertainment.

Of course, as with everything you write, Ben, I lapped the rest of it up, too. I have a general inquiry regarding this Murakami, as well, but more on that later.

First, in true Book-Loop spirit, I feel I should object only to the very first thing you wrote (you might think, "nitpick," or at best, "quibble.")

Specifically, I don't think it 'simple' at all, your assertion that a 'good book is a book that finds the right reader.'

If nothing else, there's a problem with using the word 'right,' I think. So often is it understood to be inextricably linked with the notion of 'good,' that all you might be saying, I fear, is that a 'good book is one that, for some reader, is a good book.'

Never mind that I think the notion is too narrow in that it is predicated on the book being read (is Shakespeare no longer great if he is lying idle on my shelf?), my main problem is twofold: first, I think you are leaning in the direction of a purely 'intuitive' notion of 'goodness,' and second, in part because of its 'intuitiveness,' your conception of 'goodness' seems to have an 'intrinsic' quality about it. This last point is the one I have real problems with, as I hinted in one of my previous comments.

I don't want to get into (another) involved analysis of the issue, but probably the most radical consequence that can be drawn from the conception of 'goodness' I proposed is that if you continually ask of something that is ostensibly good, 'Good for what?' you will eventually get to something which doesn't seem 'good' at all. This is probably just one of the many reasons why I've been called a 'Debbie Downer' and a 'Negative Nancy,' but it's why I also think a guy like Franzen cuts such a ridiculous figure, harping as he does on the so-called decline of our civilization, which can only be rescued by turning off the TV, which is oh so 'bad,' and turning back to books, which are oh so 'good.' So that instead of watching 'Entourage,' we can read... what?! Chick-lit?! (As if The Corrections was such a 'better' book than The Devil Wears Prada...)

Of course, in expounding on your thesis you give lots of examples of 'good books' *in action*, which were entirely consistent with, if also more entertaining, than my own. I just like to harp on my own obsession, which is that a 'good book' is never simply 'good,' even when it finds the 'right reader.'

Quickly, on Murakami--what's the attraction exactly? I was doing it again the other day, flipping through a book in the bookstore, a Murakami. I think I remember reading something about a handjob and some Beatles songs (of course, I might be hallucinating all this, as well), but as much as it was probably translated, the prose seemed extra dull and I had the uncomfortable feeling that I might be surrounded on every side by cliches and banality. (At this point, Ben, you have to be thinking, if this guy reads half as badly as he 'skims'...) Anyway, this is my favorite part of having joined the Book-Loop-- short-circuiting the whole reading as exploration process. So, I apologize, Ben, but since I have you here, so I can decide whether I should put in the time to read some, what's Murakami's attraction exactly? Put another way, perhaps you can explain some of these 'smiles' you get from reading him.

Ben said...

Hmmm, I think book finding right reader is a rather simple concept. What is not simple is what makes the reader right for the book. I'm placing more of the emphasis on each reader's sense of what makes a good book for them rather than trying to explain what I think makes a book good in general. If my conception of goodness has an intrinsic quality about it, I would submit that the intrinsic quality belongs just as much to the reader as to the book.

When we ask, "good for what," why can't we simply answer, "good for the enjoyment of the reader"? Would that defeat the entire purpose of this discussion? Perhaps, but that's what I believe it boils down to. What is any hobby good for? Escapism or edification, whatever the goal, reading is not unlike other hobbies, and just as with other hobbies the payoff for each individual is unique.

As for Murakami, he's definitely not for everyone. Having read just four of his books I am far from an expert. Some find him cold. A good portion of his writing borders on science fiction and I think often that coldness serves the story well. It's not unfair of you to criticize some of his language for being dull--but you should not take away from your skimming that all his writing is this way, because it's not. His dullness and banality, like the coldness, are intentional, and are used to juxtapose the rich and bizarre goingson. I find his writing very clever in this regard. His language is clean and decisive, his stories are rather kooky. His writing is beautiful, but rarely elegant--does that make sense? He makes me laugh because I appreciate his surrealism and his deadpan humor. I appreciate how he takes stories that are set in the most ordinary of domestic settings and creates worlds that are recognizable as our own, but a few beats off a rhythm we are familiar with. His style is as unique as his stories and there is value for me in submiting to his universe.

I can't say I like your tendency to skim books and dismiss them. To me it seems akin to watching a movie in fast forward and concluding that it just doesn't interest you. But, I will say that Murakami and Mitchell are very likely to be writers that are not good for you, so perhaps your skimming skills are effective a weeding out the books that you would rather pass on. I certainly cannot criticize you for being a selective reader. There are far too many books that do suit us to spend any significant amount of time on those that do not.

LTS said...

Thanks, Ben. You didn't have to put forth the effort, but I really appreciate that you did. Murakami sounds great, in fact, and in just the way a 'skimmer' might not be able to appreciate.

Just to close the proverbial book on this one, though, when you say, 'good for the enjoyment of the reader,' I am tempting to ask, 'And what is "the enjoyment of the reader" good for?' If it is possible for me to have an interesting insight--which is either unlikely or else an insight that is thoroughly unoriginal--it is that that answers to that kind of question, when repeated, leads invariably (at least when I perform the thought experiment) to something like the following: 'That thing (e.g., pleasure) is good for satisfying a natural want (i.e., the "way" I am as a human being.' Finally, 'What is satisfying a natural want good for?' Answer: 'Nothing, I guess; it's just the way I am(/you are/he is/she is/etc.).'

Thus, as I see it, in the best case, one might ('intuitively'?) argue that what merely 'is' is ('self-evidently') what 'ought' to be (or what is 'intrinsically good' by virtue of 'being').

You probably won't accept this conclusion if you haven't liked my reasoning thus far, but since you indulged me on Murakami, you might also indulge me on this and let me know if meditating on this over your breakfast cereal does anything for you.

Anyway, thanks again, Ben. I hope you don't feel like some random person is suddenly trying to exploit you (or even merely wasting your time) when you were very much 'here first.'

In the future, I'll try to pull more of my own weight--as it is, I'm already impressing the ladies by promising to forward them your 50 essential hip-hop albums list. Do you want royalties, by the way? I meant to ask.

LTS said...

Sorry, I'm not at my analytical best at this hour and in my current condition, but I would consider another alternative--that the chain of questions never ends (e.g., satisfying a natural want could be considered 'good'... for its effect of enhancing my 'productivity' tomorrow, by virtue of my feeling 'generally more satisfied with life,' which productivity in turn leads to, among other things, the satisfaction of more natural wants on into the future--especially when I make tons and tons of money being so productive and all!).

The key point remains, however. I contend that there are no intrinsic goods of the type you seem to posit. But should it be surprising that hobbies are not good as ends in themselves or even the pleasure derived therefrom?!

Some annoyingly nihilistic s***, it probably seems; although I'd love to hear a spirited defense of Hedonism as it might encourage me to have more fun while I'm here.

Nevertheless, I think it leads to an even more profound question, which is whether human beings are able to define for themselves a satisfactory 'final good or goods' that isn't or aren't intellectually embarrassing? (I admit it, I spend far too much time thinking about such nonsense, but like I said, over your Frosted Mini-Wheats, if you have the patience.)

PS: I just saw Gosling & Company in 'Half Nelson,' and while you wouldn't recognize it as belonging in the same tradition as 'My Fair Lady,' it wasn't (if you'll permit the crap pun) half bad. I know it's not called Movie-Loop, and I'm not encouraging anyone to plunk down $10 exactly, but it seems like a pretty amusing film for discussion purposes.

Bryan said...

I learned more while reading those posts than I did in all of college. And you think I'm joking. I had to make talking points to respond to everything, so here it goes:

Louis, you're obviously right when you say our reactions to books are contextual - our reactions to everything are contextual. If I read a book this week, will I like it? How about next week? I do find that books tend to overcome a little bit of that context in the long run because, since it takes them a while to read, the context in which they are read becomes a larger sample size of the greater context of the reader's life. Now, those two weeks or two months are also highly contextual, but they're more representative than, say, three hours.

I do agree with Ben that a "good" book is one that finds the right reader, but I don't think his other question ("What makes a book good for the masses?") is as difficult as he makes it sound or as philosophically difficult as Louis makes it sound. A "good" book for the masses finds the most right readers, and a "great" book - here's the rub - finds the right readers over a long period of time, over several generations of personal contexts. Now, to any individual reader, Shakespeare may be crap, but insofar as the word "good" exists, it's probably best to apply it to items that best fit its Merriam-Webster definition ("of a favorable character or tendency").

That leads directly into the philosophical question of what something means to be "good" and whether instrinsic "goodness" actually exists, two questions I didn't foresee when I made this post but are the appropriate ultimate questions to ask. I agree with Louis that nothing is intrinsically good, even if it's hard for me to do so: I've had this argument before, and I used to argue that there was a "good" without context, and I'm afraid that it's an impossible argument to make unless you invoke religion (and even then, you're still wrong). However, you cannot limit the idea of "good" to philosophical discussions. There is a real-world application. When a book such as Hamlet or The Sun Also Rises or whatever you want, really, reaches the wholly subjective level of "Classic" (as determined by some publisher, critic or Barnes & Noble nose-ringed, slightly goth, strangely hot employee), it has done so by being labelled as "good" by enough people for enough time that it obviously appeals to people in hundreds of thousands of contexts, with no sign of becoming "dated" - while it's not necessarily accurate to call this a "good" book in the stricly philosophical sense, it has certainly reached the right reades (of whom there are more, because of its "good"ness) for long enough that the distinction between calling it a "Classic" or "good" book moves toward the zero point. Even if you as the reader don't like it, it will have provoked discussion and emotion for long enough and among most people that it would be unfair to criticize it (unless it's really bad, like The Da Vinci Code). Getting back to my initial post, I guess that makes The Effect of Living Backwards a "good" book for now, seeing as it's beloved by many others. Perhaps I'll love it in another context 10 years from now. Or perhaps it will have faded away.

Louis, I also skim books, and the other day I read the Introduction to Franzen's How To Be Alone in which he says that he went a little bit overboard in the days ofThe Corrections, and that he realizes that his dystopian view of society was either wrong or silly, but most of all, not all that helpful.

Bryan said...

Half-Nelson has also been recommended to me. Though I know Louis won't watch it, I'll recommend the defunct TV series Undeclared, by Judd Apatow, writer of Freaks & Geeks and The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, of which I watched several episodes this weekend. It's funny and "good," and actually tackles the question of what is ultimately "good" in one episode. It's true.

Bryan said...

Finally, I also learned who Leigh Lezark is this weekend, and while I would almost certainly find her to be the most offensive type of person imaginable in a social setting, she is most assiduously not ugly. Though one wonders what years of drug use will do. Google away.

LTS said...

I believe your triple comment may qualify as a blogging "hat trick," Bryan. Nicely done.

And efficient--there is really nothing about what you wrote that I want to quibble with further (or you may just assume that all my previous quibbles more or less still stand). Moreover, I enjoyed your summary of the bigger, 'common sense,' 'real world' picture, which Ben also captured in his original comment. (Can't help but note that you two seem to differ on the merits of a certain book, however.) I especially appreciated your picking up on the aggregate effect of something being good for "many people" and what happens when that aggregate reaches a critical mass (hence the attachment of labels, e.g., 'Classic,' etc., which might actually be meaningul and useful). I can't resist one final point, in the interest of exhaustion (yours, of course, not mine), which is that, especially with respect to critical labels, often 'goodness' will have less to do with something actually being 'good' for lots of people and more to do with the opinion of one or a few people that it 'ought to be good' for them. I'm always amused by this idea--one implication being that if only one is sensitive and intelligent enough, then obvioulsy one will appreciate (or depreciate) a book to the degree that the critic/reviewer does. Whatevs...

Anways, lest we miss the forest for the trees--a lesson courtesy of BAG and Bryan--I'll stop here (for real, this time).

Bryan said...

I would say I overstated my position on the Da Vinci Code to placate Ben, having not read his post close enough - I have no real problem with it, but I can see how people would think it's bad literature. As BAG said to me just now, "silly, harmless entertainment." Or something like that.

Ben said...

Just a few quick ideas I hope to better articulate before me move on:

1) Louis and I may be closer in opinion than he thinks. When I say, "good for the enjoyment of the reader," I do not mean to imply that that good is good for anything. Escapism mostly. That's why I tried to place writing on the same level as any hobby. Perhaps it is ultimately meaningless, but it still has much value within a life. This leads us back to the satisfaction and productivity line of thinking, which I like.

2) When I said "What makes a book good for the masses is still another question, this one having too many answers to bother with," I wasn't really trying to dismiss it as an impossible concept to unravel. All I hoped to get across was that I think there are too many variables to play around with for me to concern myself with the why and how of widely popular books in general. Certainly with any given book one could identify particular traits that make it so accessible to such a wide audience, but to attempt to formulate a kind of template for mass popularity would unravel your brain more than it would the issue at hand. The qualities that Louis outlined above: "recognizable style, literary innovation, the proliferation of striking metaphors, a memorable scene, a surprising plot twist, a character the reader can strongly identify with, etc." are certainly helpful, but a book could conceivably have all of those things and still not become "a good book for the masses." Too many answers to bother with.

LTS said...

I probably enjoy this sort of thing more than the rest of you combined, but I'm sure all of us are hoping to get back to posting about books and writers--personally, I'm excited about Stoppard, of late, and would very much like to share ideas about his work at some point.

Still, Ben, I worry that we are as far apart as ever (you might be right that we're not, but I worry).

Yes, it could be more verbal confusion. (Bryan got at the important notion that language works on at least two levels--private and public--and it is the public language, 'ordinary language,' language used in a social context, that is often the source of confusion and disagreement amongst people.)

Nonetheless, you say, "I do not mean to imply that that good is good for anything," which is precisely the opposite of what I said previously, that "things are only 'good' when they are 'good *for something (else)*.'"

You then suggest that you will follow me most of the way to my position, but not all the way, which is that things are 'ultimately meaningless'--but I don't believe that either. I wouldn't have used up so many words if I didn't think there was any meaning ever in saying this or that book is 'good.' (Unless you were merely equating 'meaninglessness' with an 'absence of intrinsic good,' which is fine but confusing since I don't think they mean the same thing and also bad because then we're still in disagreement on what I take to be my main point.)

Finally, by way of contrasting your position with mine, you invoke the word 'value' in such a way that it suggests that implicit in your usage, an 'instrinsic good' is hiding somewhere yet. If so, like I said, we still very much disagree. No big deal, but we do.

It's possible, though, you only meant by 'value' some kind of 'utility,' since you emphasize the example of 'productivity,' in which case it's possible that we are in an agreement of sorts after all, that books and anything else in the world is, approximately speaking, 'only good with respect to something else and by virtue of something effected'--the favorable 'tendency' in Bryan's dictionary definition, but not the favorable 'character.'

But I hope you can see why I felt compelled to post (again) and why I remain suspicious that your conception of 'goodness' implicitly remains very much focused on an 'intuitive' conception of 'intrinsic good'--i.e., 'good' is whatever a person feels is 'good' for them. Hence, your commitment to the 'right reader' concept.

I harp, not because it 'matters' or because I 'care' or even because I think you're 'wrong,' but because I want to be able to convey ideas when I have them. I worry that, in this case, I have mostly failed and have no one to blame but myself.

Likewise, 'recognizable style, literary innovation, etc.' were not offered up as even a partial checklist or summary of potential literary merits for the purpose of diagnosing books as 'good' or 'bad,' but suggested starting places for further investigations into *why* and *how* these things are so effective at satisfying readers--*why* and *how* these can contribute to a book's being 'good'--so that when we say that a book 'gives us pleasure' or 'moves us,' we might be able to be more specific than that, which I think would be 'good' insofar as it might make discussions more interesting. Sort of along the lines of the way you dropped the hammer on me in expounding on how Murakami works for you.

Ben said...

So we might not be as close as I had supposed. But I believe the gulf is made mostly of semnatics. No matter the case, I am a little tuckered out in regards to discussing the topic. I don't even know whether I believe in what I believe.

As for the last point, I agree completely that the qualities you mentioned "style, innovation, etc." are valuable for the individual to use in order to put their finger on what about a book they enjoy. I brought up the idea of the difficulty with a checklist or template simply to expound on my statement about the futility of trying to predict or define what a book popular to masses might be.

Ben said...

Also, Franzen sounds like a total ass.