Reading has been my favorite hobby, recreation, and comfort in hard times since I dug into my first Nancy Drew novel somewhere around third grade. As I’ve gotten older, with more books rattling around in my brain, I’ve gotten more and more critical, though. I live for that exquisite reading experience that makes me go “ahh” and then “drat” when I reach the end. “Ahh” because it’s been a great ride and “drat” because I don’t want it to end.
The older I get the fewer of those “ahh” books I find. It’s certainly not that there aren’t as many books being published these days. There probably still just as many great ones coming out. Maybe I’ve already skimmed the cream of what’s available. But I think it’s mostly that I’ve gotten more critical. I’ve read so much, it takes something really special these days to hook me and plunge me into its world.
Which isn’t to say it doesn’t still happen. And when it does, it’s something to celebrate.
That led me to think about what it is in a book that gives me that feeling of delight and satisfaction. I read across a broad array of genres and types of fiction. I enjoy mysteries, adventure, romance, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and mainstream fiction. I’ve found “ahh” books in all of them at one time or another.
Enjoyment is a very personal thing and can vary wildly for individuals. I’ve read books that have gotten raves from others and ended up thinking, “What’s the fuss all about?” And there are some books I just love, while others go “Huh?” I think I’ve got it narrowed down to three things that work together to make it a great ride for me.
So what does make an “ahh” experience? I’ve got a few thoughts about it.
First, a book that really grabs me will have fascinating characters. Some authors whose books draw me in for that reason are Sarah Addison Allen, Barbara Michaels, and Jim Butcher. They create interesting, well-drawn, vivid characters. People who suck you into their lives. Characters you just can’t help but want to know more about. Many authors can do good characters. Not as many do really great characters.
I also want a setting and world that is fascinating, consistent and well thought-out. A world complexly and vividly drawn enough to feel real, no matter how far it moves from reality. The best example I know of this is J.R.R. Tolkien’s in The Lord of the Rings (and his other books). Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books also do a great job of bending our world in ways that are creative and fascinating but with enough depth to feel real.
And I like a fast-moving, well-thought-out, coherent plot. A story with a few surprises along the way, a twist or two that I didn’t see coming, and ultimately a wrap-up that has me going, “of course” even though I didn’t see how it was going to happen.
But ultimately there’s a certain intangible factor to an “ahh” book. It includes all of the above factors, but something more as well. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say that a book “resonates” with me. I wish I had a handle on what it was, so I could include it in my own books!
What are your “aah” books?