one book, two book, good book, bad book

1. What do you think makes a good book?

2. Is there a difference between a good book and a book that sells?

3. What would make a book sell

I am fascinated by the idea that among readers and publishers there lies a general split in ideologies about what exactly a book should be, a cultural artifact or a commodity. It’s not until recently that I’ve realized where my personal preferences sit in this duality. I prefer books to be mostly cultural artifacts. I tend to read a lot of factual nonfiction or philosophical literature because I like to feel as if I am learning something or gaining new perspective while I read. However, most of my family tends to read for fun or pure entertainment. Books are like printed television shows. My father is on #217 of a never ending western book series. I keep and hoard my books while my family trades them, resells them, or uses them to heat the house. I mostly view books as cultural artifacts and they view them as commodities. Are my books somehow better than theirs? Who is to say?

In addressing the questions above I would argue that a good book is one that can be obviously tagged as a cultural artifact. However, a cultural artifact is hardly such if it doesn’t sell and nobody has access to it. The best books are the ones that can perfectly balance the line between being a cultural artifact and a commodity. Commodity books tend to be more widely marketed and also tend to appeal to larger audiences, while cultural artifacts tend to be poorly marketed and be very audience specific.

When a book can make a significant contribution to a population’s culture but also sell like a hot commodity, it is a great book. You might all hate me for this, but this is what I attribute The Hunger Game’s success too. In the sense that The Hunger Games navigates this balance between artifact and commodity so well, makes it a great book. As much as many of us would like to deny it, this book does appeal to the sentiments of a generation and encapsulates the emotions of many. A once great nation, divided by war, succumbs to brutal and belligerent class wars. Society is stripped of its middle class, pitting the lowest class against itself even though there is an overwhelming sense that the mysterious and far away hyper-rich are manipulating everything. The future is left to be decided by the youngest generations whose formal education is largely left to the family.

It’s no wonder why these books sold the way they did. Not only does it have a compelling concept, though a fairly common one,  it is culturally time-stamped in order to yank on the attention and nerves of a generation. It may not be a great cultural artifact or even a great commodity, but it has just enough of each to be a great book.

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1 Comment

  1. I believe a good book is any book I can get involved in without regard to my surroundings. Whether it is for entertainment purposes or education I am sure we can learn from all books. Good job Matt. I agree with you about the hunger games. Is The Lorax educational or entertaining?

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