Yeah, a bit of a cliche subject heading, but stick with me, there is a reason for this.
This blog is starting to accumulate quite a number of book reviews. Not all the books I’ve read are great. In fact quite a number of books that I’ve read have been shocking. Of late, however, I’ve been reading quite a run of excellent books, some of which I hope to be reviewing in the coming days and week. Whilst admiring the quality of them, it has given a number of good indications as to what it takes to write well.
One of the big things on good books is the passion of the writer. Good reading is not reading facts and figures about a situation, it is about compellingly conveying something in a manner that keeps the reader reading. That is done best when there is passion involved. Take the Muhammad Ali bio by Thomas Hauser. Without the author saying that much, he invests the piece with passion through the editorial decisions he makes as to what to include where. His admiration for his subject does not blind him to penning a hagiography, but gives thereading a thrilling roller-coaster of emotions. That is passionate.
At present, I tend to read non-fiction. It is not to say fiction has no merit, it is to say non-fiction holds my interest. Thus another hallmark of a good writer is being informed. I remember reading an autobiography and seeing factual errors about that person’s own life. Now if you can’t get your own data right, you lose credibility. Writing wise, there is definitely a difference between speculative almost tabloid writing and keen well-researched. Neal Gabler’s biography of Walt Disney is a great example of that. I don’t have the time or inclination to go through every reference, but the way in which it’s written is done in a comprehensive, authorititive manner that is not imposing, but clearly implies it is no a hodge-podge job. That commitment to excellence in research does not leave you with a too weighty academic read, but it reinforces the likelihood that what is being read is trustworthy.
Reading a book, especially ones over 200 pages is a bit like a marathon. Not every page will be a world-beater, but it will be set and paced well. Lulls in the reading will be minimal and actually act more as a bridge to the next reading high. Those bridges are essential to allowing each set-piece to make sense in the context of the book’s aim. Conrad Black’s book about Richard Nixon is not faultless, but his huge book on the Watergate President might be forbidding to somereason, but he is able to link those massive set-pieces he has. It makes it all the more satisfying to work through those bridges to see what they contribute towards, and that is good pacing.