Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Makes a Book 'Best'?

I was thinking today about how so many songs are considered to be the 'best' songs done by such and such a band, and how that so often seems to differ from what I myself consider that band's best song to be. Sure, I can look at a song like "Stairway to Heaven" and love it and see what is brilliant about it, but the truth is that it isn't the song by Zeppelin that I listen to the most. For Zeppelin it would be "No Quarter".

That's the key for me. What song by each band do I wish to hear most often? It may not be the song that is considered best by so many critics out there; in fact it seldom seems to be the case. Soundgarden's best song is most likely considered to be "Black Hole Sun", but what I listen to most often are "Boot Camp" and "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" (though I have edited out the silly intro).

I suppose this could be seen as analogous to my opinions on books. The so-called classics of literature certainly have great merit...except that I enjoy them only to a degree and then never wish to read them again. On the other hand, there are 'lesser' books that I re-read again and again because they touch something inside of me that I really do care about. I'll always have my own list of 'classics' and it will have little to do with the ones upon which the 'experts' of this world agree. I'm quite content with that.


  1. In my college experiences with literature, I have found that "Moby Dick" is a classic and there for thought of with a great amount of respect- but honestly I made it half way before I just couldn't even think about reading anymore.
    I can understand where you come from here, the classics are ok, but I don't wish to keep rereading them.

  2. I am not sure how most classics become that way. Scarlet Letter is often brought up and it wasn't bad at first but it just keeps going on and on. I think literature is judged more on thematic merits instead of actual writing.

    That said, there are classics that I like, some a lot.

  3. Critics don't know everything! And while every Rush song is my favorite, the ones at the top are NOT the ones you will ever hear on the radio.

  4. A very interesting post, Ted, as ever.

    I'm the same way with music. I think that while Yellow, Clocks, Speed of Sound and Viva la Vida got the most airplay around here for Coldplay (still do) I'm most attached to The Scientist, Life in Technicolor (both I and II) and Postcards from Far Away- those are the ones I listen to most (though Viva la Vida will always be a very 'happy' song for me).

    I don't much agree with critics on anything. Movies, books, or music. I guess I just don't get the herd mentality when it comes to entertainment most of the time...but it's good to be different. Gives other bands and authors an audience.


  5. Hi Budd,

    There are a number that I enjoyed quite a lot, too, such as A Tale of Two Cities, the Gulag Archipelago, The Grapes of Wrath, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Catch-22, etc. The thing is, though, is that I really don't feel compelled to read them over again, so I really like them but I don't love them.

    Alex, my favorite Rush songs are A Passage to Bangkok and La Villa Strangiato.

  6. i think there is much to be said for individuality and opinion. i think diversity is a wonderful thing. and i like to apply that to the arts...
    some of the classics i adore- the scarlet letter, the crucible, the odyssey, emma, huck, tom, the secret garden, the old man and the sea, little women, to kill a mockingbird, anything by Poe, some Shakespeare, i keep leaves of grass in my purse to read when stuck in a line somewhere... maybe i don't really understand what is counted as classic... but i love that everyone has their stories to tell- not just now, but throughout time. just as now, all those classic writers has their own voice (often imprinted by the period in which they lived) and i think it is a really nifty thing...
    that said, there are less popular novels that i love- frank peretti's novels blow my mind and there's a bunch of MG that are brilliant but overlooked- duprau, spinelli, funke (even though maybe she gets her due)...
    and then less popular stories by literary rock stars that rock my socks: The Last Battle> The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and A View From the Bridge> Death of a Salesman

  7. You're right. I think that each person likes or picks out something from a book that's different from another.

    For example, of the Jane Austen books, Pride & Prejudice is considered by most to be the "best". However, I prefer Persuasion myself. Why? Because in the story, I relate most to the words, the MC and love the ways she writes some the passages. As a more mature writers. I couldn't get into Mansfield Park but my sister loves that one "best". So I guess we draw something from the books that we find fits our life and situation best and go from there...