Reformed Readers discussion

Archive > What makes a book good?

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Laura (last edited Mar 12, 2009 07:22PM) (new)

Laura | 124 comments Mod
So, I've been pondering this topic as I rate books on goodreads (particularly as someone who identifies as a Christian).

How do you determine whether a book merits a 5-star rating? A 4-star?

For books that overtly point to Christ:
- I tend to want to give 5-stars to books that make me think (as Jason mentioned above). Some concept within the book resonates and becomes something I think back to over time (ex: The Gate Seldom Found, Though None Go With Me).

- But what if I don't agree with all of the theology or perspectives of the author (ex: Inside Out)? Still 5 stars?
- What if portions of the book resonate tremendously, but the remainder doesn't (ex: Not Enough Faith to be an Atheist)? How many stars then?
- What if the book isn't particularly well-written? (Heart-felt, but perhaps lacking something in technique or depth)? But resonates? 5-stars?

What about books that don't overtly point to Christ?
- Different criteria?
- Even if a book is very well-written, entertaining, thought-provoking...if it doesn't point to truth and Christ...does it get 5 stars?

I know, I know...lighten-up and rate the books... =)
I'm not really hung up about it, but sometimes I ponder these things. Anyone else?

message 2: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 19 comments I agree with Jason, "good thoughts!" :)
Here's how I roughly rate books (in rough order of priority):
1) Was the book enjoyable to read? After all, books are first and foremost meant to be read. If the writer can't keep the attention of the reader, he has failed, no matter how profound or penetrating the truth he's trying to convey may be. You can't get anything across if people keep putting your book down after the first five pages.
Obviously, this is going to be somewhat relative, but so what? Why would anyone ever give five stars to a book if every word was a torture to read? For example, I love John Owen's theology, but reading his books is like rubbing glass in my eyes. So he'll get 4 stars unless I run across something of his that is truly engaging in its language (unlikely).

2) Is there anything to the book beyond mere entertainment? Some books, no matter how engaging their material, are just fluff. Good content alone can't make a book truly great, but lack of content can certainly kill it as quickly as anything. I think the best example of this I've ever read is Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons"- a gripping page-turner. But absolutely no subtext at all.

Anyway, that's how I tend to judge books.

message 3: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 19 comments Laura, to answer your last question "if it doesn't point to Christ... does it get 5 stars?"
Obviously, you can rate books however you want. But, I think that Christians are particularly bad at remembering (myself included)that being a great writer (or musician, or architect, or whatever) is a gift of common grace, not saving grace. So just because a book does not point explicitly or implicitly to Christ does not make it a deficient book as a work of art. Homer's poems, though not in any way Christian, are still masterpieces of literature and may be enjoyed as a part of God's good work in creation.
In fact, either Calvin or Luther (I don't remember which, but think it was Calvin) said that we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit when we dismiss non-Christian achievements.
Which means that we can read something like Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy (if your conscience allows) and thoroughly enjoy his wonderful skill as an author, while denying his intention and theme in the book. We might even give it 5 stars if we enjoyed it and were engaged by it enough.

Is that helpful?

message 4: by Laura (new)

Laura | 124 comments Mod
Coyle - appreciate the insight.

Sounds like my 5-star rating of The Monster at the End of this Book may be legit. =)
(Highly enjoyable, promotes engaged reading by youngsters and read-aloud interaction with adults, and it's well-written, good fun.) Whew!

All-kidding-aside, I tend to get stuck at Phillipians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Wouldn't you know it, my pastor was teaching out of Philipians 4 this morning for a timely reminder).

I agree that work that does not overtly point to Christ can be admirable. But I wonder if the beauty of common grace in those scenarios is that they illuminate God's created order in spite of themselves. (Ex: watching a Cirque du Soleil show - I am captivated by the amazing humans that God has created who can imagine and perform such things). I would consider it a tougher sell to couple admiration with a denial of intent and theme.

message 5: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 19 comments Laura,

You're right, "denying" wasn't a great word. Though I'm not sure what would be better, maybe "despite"? Either way, we are certainly free to enjoy common grace things. I've heard (Francis Schaeffer, I think) say that the important parts of that Phillipians 4 verse are the "whatever" and the "anything", which do not mean "only things specifically Christian."
In any case, you're right that the "beauty of common grace" is ultimately God's hand at work in creation.

message 6: by Laura (new)

Laura | 124 comments Mod
Kim - I like your 'low star worthy' phrase. Think I'll have to add that to my lexicon.
You mentioned Schaeffer's commentary and an excerpt above, but I'm not certain what you're referencing?

message 7: by Laura (new)

Laura | 124 comments Mod

I think the aspect of this topic about what rates high / low that I kick-around the most is: A rating is not just an evaluation of a contains an implicit recommendation. As an identified Christian, I'm thinking that we have an implicit responsibility to those who don't believe or are younger in faith to contain a 'soundness' factor in our ratings. (Since other people are surfing the site and connecting our ratings to Christ's reputation).

I also think this will get easier when goodreads adds the 1/2 stars. =)

back to top