Great Novels – More Unscientific Criteria

Having read the opinion that first person novels are particularly compelling, I’ve pondered what else might get a novel into the “great” category. Fortunately, I just read one which is, if not “great”, at least really good. I’ll post about it shortly.

Try this on for size: a great novel may get into your dreams. Seriously, that happened to me two nights ago! I caught myself dreaming about the novel mentioned above, when I was about 25% into it! My dream had more to do with words than visual images. 

Has this happened before? The first time I read Tolkien, I powered through all four books (The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy) in about a month. I was fifteen. It was summer, and there was nothing to stop me from reading as much as I wanted. I read outdoors. I read in the early hours of morning. I dreamed about all those adventures, and I fell in love with Aragorn.

I seldom dream about my own real life “dramas” – childbirth, for instance, or the deaths of loved ones. So if a book gets into my dreams, it must be exceptional.

Here’s another indicator of a really fine book, cribbed from Thomas Foster, who wrote How to Read Literature Like a Professor and How to Read Novels Like a Professor, (books well worth your attention.) Foster says the first sentence of a novel has to grab you. So now I read first sentences critically. (Apologies to T Foster if I got this wrong… possibly I read this somewhere else. Read his books anyway.)

And finally (I won’t attempt to attribute this) there’s the “start over” criterion. If, when you finish a book, you just want to turn it over and dive in again, then it is truly excellent. 

Can you add to this discussion? Comments welcome!


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