What Makes a Good Book? A Guide to Spotting Great Books


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what makes a good book

Want to know what makes a good book? A great book can whisk us away to different worlds, introduce us to new perspectives, and even change our lives. On the other hand, a book that isn’t up to par can leave us feeling frustrated and dissatisfied. Well, we all want our reading time to be well-spent.

This guide is going to break down the elements of what makes a good book, help you understand your personal preferences, and arm you with practical tips to spot a potential page-turner.

We’ll explore everything from plot structure to character development, from pacing to writing style, and beyond.

By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of what makes a book great – not just in general, but for you personally.

So, ready to turn the page on your book evaluation journey? Let’s dive in. Remember, the more we understand about books, the better our reading experiences become.

What Makes a Good Book?

The world of literature is like a banquet with an infinite array of dishes. Some books are universally appreciated, much like a good pizza, while others cater to acquired tastes.

“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.”

– Paul Sweeney

A good book, like a well-prepared meal, is a feast of finely blended ingredients: a riveting plot, complex characters, profound themes, a distinctive writing style, fresh originality, and a pace that keeps us hooked.

Let’s take a closer look at each element and how they contribute to a great book:


The plot is the spine of a book, supporting and giving structure to the narrative. It needs to engage, captivate, and make sense. Think of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The plot is full of unexpected twists, leaving readers engrossed until the last page.

Assess a plot by asking: Does the story intrigue me? Is there a clear journey with unexpected twists? Does it create suspense or excitement that keeps me reading?


Characters breathe life into the plot. Well-crafted characters like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird or Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s series evoke emotions and leave a lasting impression. They seem real, displaying growth and evolution as the story unfolds.

Consider their authenticity and development while evaluating: Do they feel real? Do they evolve throughout the story? Do their motivations make sense?


The theme adds depth to a book, making it resonate with readers. It’s the thread that ties the plot and characters together. In 1984 by George Orwell, themes of surveillance, truth, and manipulation prompt readers to question their reality.

While evaluating a theme, reflect on: Does it challenge or provoke thought? Does it reflect universal experiences or truths?

Writing Style

Writing style is the unique voice of an author that enhances the reader’s connection to the story. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lyrical prose in The Great Gatsby conveys the opulence and melancholy of the Roaring Twenties. It should be engaging and fit the story.

When evaluating, consider: Do I enjoy the author’s voice? Does it draw me in? Is it easy to read and understand?


Originality infuses freshness into a book. Andy Weir’s The Martian offers an original concept: a man stranded on Mars, growing potatoes to survive. A novel concept or unique voice can make a book stand out.

To evaluate book originality, ponder: Does this book offer something new? Does it surprise me with a fresh perspective?


The pace of a story is its rhythm. A well-paced story, like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, maintains tension and suspense, ensuring readers are glued to the pages.

When evaluating pace, reflect on: Does the story flow smoothly at a rate that keeps my interest? Does it drag or are there too many unnecessary details?

Remember, the magic of a good book lies in the balance of these elements. Each reader’s preference is subjective, and what works for one may not for another.

This guide serves as your compass, aiding you in your adventure to discover what elements make a book not just good, but extraordinary for you.

How to Evaluate a Book

Choosing a book is akin to embarking on an expedition — a treasure hunt for that perfect reading experience. Fortunately, there are signs and symbols to guide you along your journey.

From the initial impressions to the author’s track record, let’s dig deeper into how to evaluate a book:

Initial Impressions

A book’s cover, title, and blurb are its storefront. They can provide initial clues about the book’s quality. For example, The Great Gatsby with its iconic eyes and lips cover immediately conveys a sense of mystery and decadence.

Similarly, a well-written blurb piques interest, offers insights into the genre, theme, and plot, without revealing too much.

Ask yourself: Does the cover art resonate with the title and blurb? Does the blurb make the story sound engaging and interesting?

First Few Pages

Reading the first few pages can offer a snapshot of a book’s quality. It’s like sampling the appetizer before deciding on the main course. Take Pride and Prejudice for instance, the memorable opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Consider: Does the author draw me in from the start? Is the writing style appealing?

Reviews and Ratings

Reviews and ratings are like word-of-mouth recommendations, providing valuable insights into a book’s worth. They can highlight strengths and weaknesses from readers who’ve already explored the book. Look for book reviews, recurring praises or criticisms.

For example, if a majority of readers commend the plot twist in Gone Girl, it might be worth checking out.

Ask: What do the majority of readers like or dislike about the book?

Author’s Track Record

An author’s previous works can give you an idea of their storytelling capabilities. If you’ve enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, you might also appreciate her work as Robert Galbraith in the Cormoran Strike series.

Investigate: Has the author written other books that I liked? Do they have a consistent record of producing good work?

Sample Reading

Just as a chef samples a dish mid-cooking, consider reading a random page in the middle of the book. It provides an insight into the book’s style and substance, without spoiling the plot.

Reflect: Does the dialogue sound natural? Are the characters engaging? Does the storyline intrigue me?

Investigate the Publisher

The reputation of the publisher can often hint towards the book’s quality. Renowned publishers have a certain standard for their titles, so a book published by Penguin or HarperCollins might promise a certain level of quality.

However, don’t dismiss independent publishers or self-published authors – they can be a treasure trove of original content.

Consider: Is the book published by a reputable publisher? What other books have they published?

Author Interviews and Statements

Author interviews or statements offer a glimpse into the author’s intent and vision. Knowing George R. R. Martin’s intention to explore the gray areas of morality adds an extra layer of intrigue to A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Question: What does the author hope to convey with their book? Does their vision align with my reading preferences?

Practical Tips to Spot a Good Book

Choosing a book can sometimes feel like choosing a dessert at a restaurant. They all look good, but you don’t want to end up with something you don’t like.

To help you out, here are some practical tips to spot a good book:

Check the Table of Contents

The table of contents in a book is like a restaurant menu. It gives you a snapshot of what’s inside. If you’re reading a novel, you can get an idea of how the story is structured.

For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, you can see the story is divided into two parts. Each part focuses on a different aspect of Scout’s life and the happenings in Maycomb.

For non-fiction books, the table of contents can give you an idea of the topics covered. For instance, in Michelle Obama’s Becoming, the table of contents shows the book is divided into three sections: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, Becoming More. This gives you a preview of her personal, relationship, and public life.

Ask yourself: Does the table of contents intrigue me? Does it suggest a well-structured story or a comprehensive discussion of the topic?

Browse the Bibliography (For Non-fiction)

For non-fiction books, the bibliography is like checking the ingredients of a dish. A long, detailed bibliography shows that the author has done a lot of research. This might hint towards a thorough, well-argued book.

For instance, if you pick up Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, you’ll find an extensive bibliography. It’s an indicator of the depth of research Harari has put into crafting his narrative.

Think: Does the bibliography suggest a well-researched book? Are the sources credible?

Try Before You Buy

Trying before you buy is always a good idea, even with books. Read a few pages or a chapter in the bookstore. Many online platforms like Amazon provide a “Look Inside” option. If you’re more of a physical book person, visit your local library or consider a subscription service like Scribd.

You could also listen to a part of an audiobook on Audible. It’s like tasting a free sample at an ice-cream parlor. It helps you decide whether you’d enjoy the entire tub.

Consider: Do I enjoy the sample? Does it make me want to continue reading?

Join a Book Club or Reading Group

Book clubs or reading groups are like having a group of friends to discuss your favorite show. They can offer different perspectives and opinions on a book. You might find that a character you dismissed as unimportant was someone else’s favorite. It can help you appreciate the depth and nuances of a book.

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

– Mark Twain

Plus, book clubs often curate and recommend best books. For instance, if you join the Oprah’s Book Club, you’ll get access to a list of books that have been carefully chosen for their storytelling and literary merit.

Question: What do other members of the book club think about this book? How do their opinions compare to mine?

Remember, every reader’s journey is unique. Use these tips as your roadmap to navigate the world of books and discover your next great read!

The Role of Personal Preference

Reading a book is like taking a vacation. Some folks like a beach getaway, while others prefer an action-packed adventure trip. The same idea applies to books.

We all have our favorite “destinations” or, in other words, genres and writing styles. Let’s talk more about that:

Different Genres and Writing Styles

Genres are like the vacation spots of books. Do you love the high-stakes world of thrillers? Then books like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code could be your thing. More into an emotional rollercoaster? Then you might enjoy dramas like Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook.

Writing styles are a bit like the weather at your vacation spot. Some people love a clear, sunny day – straightforward writing, like John Grisham. Others might enjoy the beauty of a snowfall – beautiful, intricate prose, like Toni Morrison’s.

When you’re deciding on a book, consider: Is this book in a genre I usually enjoy? Does the writer’s style seem like my cup of tea?

Understanding Your Literary Tastes and Preferences

Getting to know your own taste in books is like figuring out your favorite food. Once you know you love, say, tacos, it’s easy to pick a restaurant. If you love stories and inspirational books for women with strong female characters, or if epic world-building makes you giddy, that knowledge will help guide your book choice.

Think about the books you’ve loved before. What did they have in common? Did they share a genre, a style, or a type of character? Knowing what you like helps you pick out future books you’ll love.

Your personal preferences are your own book compass. They help you navigate the huge sea of available books, pointing you toward ones you’ll truly enjoy. Trust yourself. If a book feels right for you, it probably is.

And remember, what one person thinks is a great book might just be an okay book for someone else. The most important thing is to enjoy your reading journey.

Cultivating Patience and Open-Mindedness

Deciding if a book is good can sometimes require a little patience and an open mind. A book can be like a tricky puzzle – it may not make sense initially, but as you put the pieces together, the picture becomes clear.

Here’s how to cultivate patience and open-mindedness when evaluating a book:

Set a Reading Goal

Commit to reading a certain number of pages or chapters before making a judgement. Just like a slow-burning film, some books take time to set the scene and develop the plot. By setting a reading goal, you ensure that you don’t give up on a potentially good book too early.

For instance, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath might feel confusing at first, but as you press on, you start to appreciate the intricate tapestry of interwoven stories and characters.

Balance Variety and Favorites

While you might have a preferred genre or author, remember that good books come in many forms. Balancing what you know you like with new and different choices can expand your understanding of what makes a book good.

For example, if you typically read modern literature, try mixing in a classic novel like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen or a contemporary fantasy like American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Exploring a variety of books can refine your sense of what elements contribute to a book’s quality.

How Notable Figures Determine a Good Book

Many famous people are avid readers and have shared their methods of determining a good book. These approaches can provide additional perspectives for your own book evaluation process.

Barack Obama’s Varied Reading Habits

Former President Barack Obama is well-known for his extensive and varied reading list. He believes in the power of books to provide insights, broaden perspectives, and foster empathy.

According to Obama, a good book is one that allows him to see the world from different viewpoints and understand others’ experiences. He’s been known to read anything from prize-winning novels to thought-provoking non-fiction, demonstrating the importance of variety in expanding your understanding of what makes a good book.

Bill Gates’s Deep-Dive Approach

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is a voracious reader. He’s known for his deep-dive approach to reading; he often reads books on a subject in succession to get a well-rounded view.

Gates has shared that a good book for him is one that is both instructive and enjoyable, offering him new knowledge or insights.

He also highlights the importance of a book’s ability to retain your interest. He has mentioned that if a book doesn’t grip him in the first few chapters, he feels no obligation to continue, demonstrating the importance of an engaging start to a book.

Oprah Winfrey’s Emotional Connection

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, known for her influential book club, often emphasizes an emotional connection as a key indicator of a good book.

Oprah has said that a book needs to touch her heart and make her feel something.

Her book selections, which range from heart-wrenching memoirs to compelling novels, often deal with deep emotional themes, showcasing the power of books to move us and make us reflect on our own lives and society.

Stephen King’s Search for Truth

Renowned author Stephen King has often spoken about his extensive reading habits.

For King, a good book isn’t about genre or literary prestige, but about the truth it conveys. He believes that good fiction, regardless of its category (horror, romance, thriller), should tell the truth about what it means to be human. It’s about recognising reality within the fantasy.

So, when you read a book, ask yourself: Does this book present characters, emotions, or scenarios that feel real and relatable? This approach can give you a fresh perspective on what makes a book good.

Elon Musk’s Quest for Knowledge

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is known for his love of reading, which began at a very young age. Musk has often attributed his broad knowledge base to his extensive reading habits.

He’s known for preferring books that help him understand the world and the principles that govern it. From science to philosophy to biographies, Musk reads to learn.

Musk’s approach to evaluating a good book focuses on its ability to provide useful knowledge or a new way of thinking about the world.

His favorite books, like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, have shaped his outlook on life and business, showcasing the power of books to influence our perspectives and actions.

Useful Resources For Book Evaluation

As you aim to better discern the quality of a book, there are numerous resources that can offer insights and aid in your evaluation:

Mastering Book-Related Platforms

Goodreads, Amazon reviews, and literary podcasts can provide a wealth of opinions and analyses of books.

These platforms can help you see different perspectives on a book’s strengths and weaknesses, enhancing your ability to judge its quality.

Follow Literary Prizes

Keeping an eye on the recipients of prestigious awards like the Pulitzer, Man Booker, and Hugo can offer insight into what elements the literary world values in a book.

Analyzing why these books have been recognized can refine your understanding of what makes a book exceptional.

Subscribe to a Book Review Publication

Book review publications like “The New York Review of Books” or “Times Literary Supplement” offer in-depth analyses of a book’s content and structure, and can help you understand what critics look for in a good book.

These tips and resources can serve as your tools in the quest to determine what makes a book good.

It’s all about developing your understanding and perspective – a journey that’s just as rewarding as reading the books themselves.


As we reach the end of our journey, remember the words of Mortimer J. Adler:

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

Understanding “what makes a good book” is a personal and ever-evolving journey. Use the tips and tools we’ve provided in this guide, but remember, your own intuition and preferences are just as vital. Be patient, keep an open mind, and explore with curiosity.

In the end, the best book is one that resonates with you, that moves you, that ‘gets through’ to you. So don’t be afraid to venture into new genres, try new authors, and keep refining your own understanding of what makes a book good for you.


About the author

A literary aficionado and caffeine connoisseur, brewing stories and coffee while navigating life with my trusty feline sidekick, Mr. Spot. When I'm not lost in the pages of a novel, you'll find me hunting down the perfect pen and mug combo!