It will come as no surprise, I suspect, to learn that with respect to entering imagined worlds, there is little difference between reading a book and writing one. Of course, coming upon the finished item as a reader is usually smooth sailing whereas writing the story often means a lot of backtracking, deleting, revisiting and shuffling to get the thing in proper working order. But in both cases there is that other world, a city or small town, people going about their business finding trouble or love, playing out their destinies. And best of all that other world, the imagined space, has something like a flavor or tint, its own particular emotional tone which is as vivid as any character or scene if much more difficult to define. The “flavor” of, say, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is distinctly different from anything else, even distinctly different from anything else by Faulkner. And when you return to a book, either as reader or writer, it’s as if you can taste it and it’s delicious. This literacy business is pretty special.
But what of the question of a book being good or bad? I was and still am an English teacher and for many years I walked around with the notion that I was encouraging not only reading, but the reading of good books. Some people call these “the classics.” I think I see now that I had for many years forgotten Miss Knope and my travels to Mexico. Do you see how poor my memory can be? Sometimes, apparently, even when you remember something it’s as good as forgotten. Memories ought to be useful and it occurs to me that I’ve found the use, at last, for my fifth grade travels. Whatever book I was reading then, whatever book it was that took me so far from that classroom, was a good book. And the Walter Farley books that followed were as good as were many, many more.
In the last twenty years or so I’ve become quite fond of most of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. It’s very funny, spiritually and intellectually challenging. Ishmael and Queequeg are boon companions and sailing around on the Pequod turns out to be conducive to engaging meditation. Yet, I know other English teachers who cannot abide the novel. Moreover, when it first appeared, the critics had little use for it and it was not until much later that readers began to see its value. So, is it a good book? It seems to me the question has stopped making sense. Is it a good book? What are we asking? Is it a good book now but not when it was first published? Is it a good book for me, but not for you? Dare I say that it’s a good book if it carries you off, not to Mexico in this case, but rather to shimmering Asian seas? I think so. I think if it does that, if when you pick it up you can taste it and it’s delicious, then it’s a good book.
I have already said that when I make my own stories I enter into that seductive, compelling fictive world. It’s the best I can do. It’s the only thing I can do. I have no formula for making novels, nor do I attend to that army of agents and publishers, writers and teachers who are full of advice (for a fee of course) on how to make your book a screaming best seller. Some of my readers—there are a few—report that some of the books are “page turners.” For me, the good news is that these reports vary in such a way that each book is a page turner for at least some readers. Page turners. How excellent. At least some of the time I’m taking my readers to Mexico.
You can find them on Amazon as Kindle books at: http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&f…