Good Book: A Reader’s Perspective – I

by Lakshmikanth Koundinya on May 22, 2013

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Why should you judge a book?
Like male and female, life and death, good and evil, and many other manifestations of Yin-Yang, books too can borrow the concept of natural duality, and thereby each book can be made to fall either under the category of ‘Good books’ or of ‘Bad books’. And the distinction between good and bad is being discussed and argued by many intellectuals since the time of Socrates. So attempting to judge a book can prove to be an intellectual and philosophical activity which might help us in knowing more about ourselves and the society.

For whom should you judge a book?
Different readers have different perspectives and different expectations. What some call ‘A Good Book’ might repel some others. And the converse too can hold true. In such state of inherent disputability about the goodness of a book due to varying perspectives, a person’s judgment of a book can merely be construed as his individual opinion or as a matter of personal choice. This being considered, can an individual say “This is a Good book and that is a Bad book.” in a way that this statement achieves universal applicability and acceptance? Can a person judge a book for others in a way that his judgment prevails over others’ opinions? In any atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, an individual’s opinion can never be negated by others. It can only be respected. However, acceptance or rejection of another’s judgment is based on one’s independent reasoning. Attempting to impose one’s opinion on others in any manner is a heinous crime. This line of argument leads to the conclusion that a book must not be judged for others, and that one can just state his opinion which then gets added to the pool-of-opinions collectively contributed by other readers. However, there is more to it.

How good is your judgment?
When a person judges something, be it a book or a movie or a person, he decides for himself whether he likes it or not. He has done no wrong in reaching a conclusion for himself. But in this process, one should realize that he uses his existing level of knowledge to arrive at his conclusion. Now the question to be focused is whether his existing level of knowledge is sufficient to judge that particular entity. If he had some more knowledge about the object of his judgment, would his judgment change? There is no wrong in reaching a conclusion, but there is in reaching a wrong conclusion. By judging under the influence of ignorance, a person wrongs his own self.

A situation described in the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey serves as a great example in this discussion. A man boards a busy train with his two kids. The kids were making lot of noise and were disturbing the co-passengers. Gradually the kids cross their limits and create unbearable amount of trouble for the co-passengers. All this while, the father sat in his chair in silence and never bothered to control his children. One of the co-passengers whom the kids troubled the most stared at the father angrily. He then makes a judgment that the father is an unsocial, irresponsible and discourteous person for not uttering even one word of control to his children who were making a mess in the train’s compartment. Finally, completely frustrated, the man rudely asks the father to control his children and to be conscious of his surroundings. The father then humbly apologizes and tells him that his wife died an hour ago in an accident and he is travelling to complete the hospital-formalities and he did not realize that his children were making trouble.

 If that person had knowledge about death of the man’s wife, his judgment about the man initially would have been quite different. He would understand the blow of a wife’s death to a husband and would sympathize with him. But lack of adequate knowledge made him judge the man to be an irresponsible and discourteous person. Analogously, when one judges a book, if he doesn’t have adequate knowledge he would end up drawing wrong conclusions about the book.

Knowledge can be about anything. About Science, Arts, Literature, Drugs, anything. Knowledge is infinite. None can possess all of it. Then what is that particular quantity called ‘adequate amount for proper judgment’? To exactly calibrate knowledge is nearly impossible. To relatively measure it is easy and practical. Some people have lesser knowledge than others (or some people are more knowledgeable than others). Individually, there are times when you had lesser knowledge than some other times (you have more knowledge about Science in you class 10 than in your class 1). With greater knowledge you can reach a more justified conclusion than with lesser knowledge (One can bring in various alternative arguments about this, but doing that would pull us into other irrelevant realms). The idea of square root of negative numbers might seem in every manner preposterous to you in lower classes. Only when you acquire more knowledge that you understand the existence of an entire branch of Mathematics called Complex Analysis.  Similarly, while judging a book, if you have more knowledge pertaining to the act of judging a book, you would reach a better conclusion.

What should you do?
Acquire knowledge. Judge better. Spread the knowledge and let the society judge better. In this way, you won’t be guilty of imposing your opinion on others. You just provide them with tools of better judgment which they would use according to their independent will.

But why should you do?
Appreciation of any art is seldom a natural ability for most of the mankind. It calls for some amount of learning. Once a person learns to appreiciate any art, the joy that art has in store for him is boundless.  A lot of readers don’t know what to look for in a book. They are unaware of the important features a book should have. They might miss something very deep and valuable, and might merely scrape the surface of the book. If you read a book and liked it, ask yourself “Why do I like it?” and if you dislike a book ask yourself again “Why do I dislike it?” Reason all your actions. And check if you have a proper way of reasoning. The manner of your reasoning should be based on a broad spectrum of understanding. For that you need to know what the typical characteristics of a good book are.

What next?
The next (sequel) article contains knowledge. Knowledge that can be used to judge books of Fiction. It tells about the essential elements of a good work of Fiction and how to identify them. It tells about the internal aspects of a book which are often missed out by most of the readers. It would equip you with tools that can penetrate into the writing of authors and thereby excavate all the riches buried within. With numerous examples and quotes selected from a wide range of Fiction books, it establishes reasons for various issues and answers questions like these and many more.  

Why some books are forever remembered and kept while some end up in dustbins and with street vendors?

Why some are hailed as the “Greatest works of Literature” while some are called “Literary Crap”?

What’s wrong with Chetan Bhagat? Or what’s not wrong with him?

Why do authors write what they write? Some reasons behind those exact words that they write.

Some thoughts about thriller novels, and the irritating author, Lee Child.

I want to start reading novels. Can you suggest me a good book?

(To be continued…)

Written by Lakshmikanth Koundinya

Of Poe’s heart, Russell’s brain, Wilde’s thought and Rand’s strength – a hedonic wanderer and enchantress’ apprentice in the world of Literature

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