(Famous books are not the same as great, but this is still a cool picture. ;-)
Before we discuss the quality that make a great books, we should probably discuss what makes a book great.
First, we should distinguish between the two uses of the term “great books.” For clarities sake, I shall refer to them as great books and Great Books.
A great book is a book you love. Perhaps, it is a book that changed your life. Perhaps, it is one you want to read again and again. Perhaps, it is one that rocked your world, or uplifted you in a time of darkness. Perhaps, it stirred your heart, ignited your passion, or brought you comfort. It is a book that touched you.
A Great Book is a book that did to a whole lot of people what a great book did to you. It is the same thing on a society level: a book that rocked many people’s world; or that introduced new ideas into society; or that led millions of readers to “burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of all mankind.” * It is a book that so many people found great that it outlasted the sandblast of Time, which otherwise clears away all things.
So what makes a book great?
Well, here is an example:
When I was young, I chose to attend St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD because of their Great Books program. I knew I was interested in writing, and I wanted to read the best of what other people had written—the books that touched so many people that they were still around hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of years later.
We read many fascinating books. Some I felt was good, some I could have done without. But there was one book that stood out to me above all the others, one book I thought was truly great, which really did make me burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrows of its characters.
I loved it. I have read it again and again. I turn to it when I need help and inspiration with my own writing. In many ways, I think if it as the best of all novels. I felt that the whole four years, and all the money spent, were worth it for me to have read that one book.
The book was War and Peace.
For me, War and Peace is a Great Book and a great book. It is a book that touched millions of hearts, and one of them was mine.
For our series on Writing the Great Book, we’ll be looking at both kinds, both the books that touched our heats and the books that touched the hearts of people throughout the world and throughout history.
Next week, I will post the initial list. So you, Dear Readers, have one more week to weigh in on what you think makes a book great or Great.
*My dad’s favorite quote from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. I have also seen it written: “burns with the bliss and suffers with the sorrows of every creature”.