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How do you decide how good or bad a book is? There are a lot of parameters for judging a book (the least important one being it’s cover – had to get that out of my system). You have language, plot, characterization, allusions and vividity of descriptions. Then there’s hype, peer pressure, relevance to current affairs, misdirection.

I attended a full course on ‘Reading Fiction’ in college, in which I was taught a lot of tools for analyzing a book and identifying a great book among good ones. I pi**ed off my professor for saying that a particular book was good because ‘it was fun to read’ when I was expected to identify the figures of speech and analogies and comments on social norms. I’m sure I will incur her wrath with what I’m about to say. Good thing I have a limited readership.

I’ve often observed that a lot of good books have a common quality of ‘Unputdownability’©. The minute you start reading one such book, it distracts you from anything else you do. It’s an adrenalin+intellectual rush you experience quite rarely. The book doesn’t have to be deep or thought provoking. It doesn’t have to be about anything serious or anything real. It doesn’t need to have a complicated sentence structure (or a remarkably straight forward one). It just needs to make itself hard to put down.

‘The Shining’ by Stephen King is one such book. It’s scary, it’s vivid and it’s absolutely unputdownable. The Lord of The Rings trilogy too, but the unputdownability kicks in after 550 pages or so. Nial Ferguson’s ‘The Ascent of Money’ is unputdownable until the last chapter when he goes from history to contemporary. G. G. Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is circular, confusing, imaginative and immensely unputdownable.*

Very few authors have been so consistent at coming up with unputdownable books as Agatha Christie. It’s for a student (another one) of a ‘Reading Fiction’ course to analyze why this is so, and I don’t believe it’s solely due to the convenient length of the stories. I remember reading almost all of her books in one sitting. And Then There Were None. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?** A Murder Is Announced. Witness For Prosecution. It’s no surprise that she is the undisputed queen of story-telling.

I realize that some books are not intended to be unputdownable in the truest sense of the word. They wish to make the reader pause after a few chapters to process and digest all that’s been read before. You often need to take a break before resuming. But as long as they stay in your thoughts even when you’re not reading them, I think they are unputdownable after all.

* – I was tempted to include ‘most Harry Potter books’ here, but didn’t purely out of deference to the aforementioned professor

** – The book I just put down


Written by sujaybedekar

May 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Any views on “Too Big to Fail”??


    May 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

  2. Not read that yet – let me know how it is if you have. There are too many books out there on the financial crisis, too much of overlap keeps happening between them all. I read ‘The Big Short’, it’s alright, should be an interesting read for people not aware of Collateralized Debt Obligations (abbreviation: WMD :P)

    Sujay Bedekar

    May 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm

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