If you've followed my blog for a while, you know I love to recommend things...books especially. I depend pretty heavily on other people's recommendations to choose what I read next, so I like to try to provide the same service for other readers because omg, SO MANY BOOKS TO CHOOSE FROM AND NOT ENOUGH TIME. #readerproblems And generally, I haven't given my personal recommendations much thought beyond "I loved this and I hope you will too!"
However, I recently took a writing class with author R.L. Syme (she gives the BEST writer classes--if you're a writer, go take it. You'll thank me.) and one of the lectures was about how what different readers are looking for in their books is based on their own unique personalities. This may seem like a "duh" concept at first shine--we all are unique and are going to like different things. But it's much more layered and complex than that. We like things in books as readers (and if we're writers it guides our writing too) because of our personality strengths/qualities guide what we value in a story.
So, for instance, one of my strengths (according to a super fascinating test called the Strengthsfinder) is Individualization, meaning I have a particular ability to understand the "unique qualities of each person" and am "impatient with generalizations." This probably contributed to me wanting to become a therapist--seeing all the layers in people. But it's also what guides much of my writing. If you read my books, you'll (hopefully) see that I spend a lot of time on characterization, on building each person layer by layer, giving in depth backstory, making their motivation and feelings clear. That's what I love to do. Plot always comes second to me. Character-driven fiction is my thing. But not just as a writer, this class made me realize it's also what I seek as a reader.
This is why I'm often disappointed with the latest thriller everyone is raving about (whatever it may be) because I read it and can't see what others are so excited about. But that's because often in thrillers, the characterization doesn't have to go very deep (though it can and certain writers do that well) because people aren't reading it for that. They're reading a thriller for the tension, the twisty plot, the surprise ending. So to someone with lower Individualization, they don't even notice that the characters may have been depicted in very broad strokes with not much depth. That doesn't bother them at all if the plot and story are fantastic. (I realized this is why a good friend and I often can't recommend books to each other because we're looking for totally different reading experiences.)
So, this got me to thinking about the book recommendations I give (and the ones I seek out.) If you hear me saying that is a book is fantastic, it probably means that most of the following key points were hit because those are the golden nuggets I'm searching for when I pick up a book. (And it's also what you'll hopefully find in the books I write.)
1. Very layered characters - I need fully fleshed-out characters with backstories and flaws and motivations that make them feel real to me.
2. A character I can root for - Unlikable characters can be done well, and this isn't a dealbreaker for me (I've even written some), but I've found that, in general, I need at least one character who is likable or sympathetic (meaning I understand why they are acting the way they are) and who I can spend a whole book with. I want them flawed because that's human, but I don't want to hate everyone in the book because then I don't care what happens to them.
3. A page-turning pace - As much as I love deep characters, I don't read a lot of traditional literary fiction because I still need stuff to happen in the story and for it to move at a good pace. Slow books can put me in a reading slump and I hate that.
4. A non-ambiguous ending, preferably happy - I'm a romance writer. I love my happy endings. I don't mind if a book puts me through the ringer if I have some hope and happiness at the end of it. I don't read to be depressed. That's not to say I always have to have a bright and shiny ending, but I at least need a satisfying, clear one. I don't want to be left wondering what the hell happened. The couple needs to end up together. The killer needs to be caught. Revenge needs to be had. Whatever it is, wrap it up.
5. Great writing - I'm a writer so I just can't help evaluating the writing. Plus, part of my personality profile is being picky and perfectionistic. If the writing is weak, even if the premise is interesting, it pulls me out of the story.
So those are my things. If they are yours, then I'm probably a good person to trust for book recommendations (and hey, you'll probably like my books, too!) However, if you're a reader who is more interested in a twisty plot or intricate world-building or lots of back to back sexy times with no time wasted on character history/relationship development (hey, no judgment!) then my recommendations might not land as well with you. It's important to find the friends/book reviewers/recommenders that match up with your tastes.
If you'd like to keep up with my book recommendations, you can find them in a number of different places. Come join me!
What makes a book a "must read" for you?