What You Want

Today’s question comes to you courtesy of Singlemalt:

What do you want from a great author?

What do I want? Simple. Make me want to turn the page.

Ok, so I learned something, great. But make me want to turn the page.

He can really turn a phrase, is insightful, is witty. Terrific. But make me want to turn the page.

Her books have an amazing philosophical approach and shed light on the human condition. Super. But make me want to turn the page.

Hey, if I’m going to invest a few weeks (ok, more like a month) of my time, you better make it worth while for me. So make me want to turn the page.

See, easy.

So what do YOU want from an author?

37 Responses

  1. What I WantI agree with
    What I Want

    I agree with Singlemalt that I like an author to make me turn the page. However, that isn’t #1 on my requirements list. A lot of books can get me turning pages, but in the end it’s ’empty calories’. And I’m willing to propel myself through something a little dull like Marcel Proust or George Eliot (not exactly pageturners) because I know I’ll get something good from it.

    What I want most is that the author really tells the truth, the painful truth, the whole truth. I want to know my authors are pouring their whole lives into it. Writing a book should be like tearing off your own skin. If I feel a writer is not revealing his or herself — if they are putting up a cool front or maintaining a nonchalant distance (a la later Jay McInerney novels), then I am not going to waste my time on it.

  2. The Nature of GreatnessWhat
    The Nature of Greatness

    What do I want from a “great”* author?

    I want to open a book and read a story in it and say “wow, I can relate to that”.

    Or read a great story and can’t relate to it but can emphasize.

    I want what I expect from a favorite author, more of the similar for the next few novels, but then I want them to stray from their normal subject matter – but not too far – fans usually get greedy and don’t want their favorite authors to change too much.

    I want an author where I can say “how is this guy getting published..and I’m well..” but then I am stil intrigued and think maybe a certain someone should be published someday too.

    I want an author who writes about run of the mill dragons and unicorns in a way that hasn’t been written before.

    I want an author who writes about parties I want to be at, and characters who I would like to be.

    Yeah, that’s it.

    *= authors who “I’d” consider great.

  3. SatisfactionIt needn’t be a

    It needn’t be a great author… any author will do… as long as the point is reached, and reached with a personal satisfaction. Nothing short of satisfaction will do.

  4. “Everything I wrote was true,
    “Everything I wrote was true, because I believed in what I saw.”

    -Jack Kerouac

    Can’t put it much more succinctly, or beautifully than that.

  5. As Mary Poppins Once Sang”A
    As Mary Poppins Once Sang

    “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

    The reason why I, and I’d imagine many others, read in my spare time is because I enjoy it. And I suspect that enjoyment comes from being entertained. As singlemalt said: “Make me turn the pages.”

    So then, I want entertainment. But how to I define such a broad term? I don’t know.

    I’d like there to be some substance to it; that is I why I watch “The Sopranos”, but not “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

    Same thing with books. I read and enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, even with the writing as bad as it was. It kept me turning pages, and there was all the interesting though arguable stuff about history and painting.

    So with The Da Vinci Code, it was plot that entertained.

    In another book, I might find the ideas and expression-of-such to be page-turning, though the book might be plotless.
    (say Soul Mountain by 2000 Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian)

    Good or achingly beautiful writing works too, (think Brautigan) but lovely but empty turns of phrase can only get you so far.

    I think British writer David Mitchell (Ghostwritten, number9dream, Cloud Atlas) is a contemporary author who combines Big Ideas with forward-propelling plots very well.

    So what do I want from an author?

    Well, I guess, like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

    (Oh, and try to keep your books under 500 pages. Preferably no longer than 250-300. We get it already; you’re brilliant. Remember, brevity is the art of something or other.)

  6. Mode d’emploipour vivre sa
    Mode d’emploi

    pour vivre sa vie ..

    on paper or
    wept to the
    skin of trees,
    carved into wet earth:

    store it my love
    like quicksilver
    heavy and floating
    for days to remember
    in fog and quest,
    this stay on earth.


    no: turning the pages
    of life
    being turned anyway is
    enough, too much at times
    of entertainment with
    my 5 lives in parallel
    rocket thrust
    abyss of monsters
    enough, enough, help me,
    soothe me with tender lines,
    some silly funny lines waking
    the absurd for cooling,
    associations to feel the foamy tub
    of life we all are rafters swimmers survivors
    fevers of mindstreams that till
    my brain good friendly familiar waves
    mixed so that
    i can see i’m part of this all
    direction but please don’t just
    entertain, don’t fake thrill me,
    don’t spoil my time
    oh love
    be sincere

  7. Genuine Mental JourneyYour
    Genuine Mental Journey

    Your correspondent was first transported on a genuine mental journey by Heller’s Catch-22. A first read in high school had no effect. Decades later, after rereading it, your reader knew this was what honest writers did: they held a mirror up to the world and told others what they saw in that mirror while stringing the reader along with the narrative. Heller’s characters are the American modern world’s archetypes. There are cutthroat capitalism, secret societies, religion, law and
    order, a hierarchy of ineffective leadership personified in individuals portrayed with vaudeville humor, the likes of which are still played out in the present day comic strip Dilbert.
    Catch-22 is all good sentences that flow and its humor made this reader laugh aloud and the world portrayed is so believable. What this reader enjoyed most was his own self-identification at still being alive and, like Yossarian, having escaped all the grotesque character archetypes. An honest genuine mental journey with good characters and funny, clear prose is what should get accomplished by a good writer.

  8. I Think, Therefore I AmWhat
    I Think, Therefore I Am

    What makes a great author to me — or a great read for that matter — is a book that forces me to think outside of my own little universe.

    When I read, I want to be propelled into a different world, a world of someone who is smarter and wiser than I am. And I don’t just mean book-smart. It could be street-smart. Wisdom is the application of knowledge and I want to read about characters who help me gain wisdom. Combine that with a good plot or story and I’m yours… but, it also has to interest my personality, otherwise I won’t bother.

    I choose my reads by looking at the first chapter and at the author’s bio. I don’t even glance at the jacket or the blurbs.

  9. Good quote, shamatha. Yeah,
    Good quote, shamatha.

    Yeah, even if a book is presented as a work of fiction, it has to “ring true” or it seems hokey and contrived.

  10. A Different Approachor I
    A Different Approach

    or I guess it’s similar to Cecil’s … but I don’t demand anything of the author/writer. When I read I think the onus is on myself to figure out what the writer is trying to communicate. If I don’t agree or don’t like it, oh well, move on to the next book. I don’t take it personally: Damn you, Author, for wasting my time with your insipid words!

    If a book strikes a chord with me and opens my eyes to something, well, that’s even better. But as long as I can discover the writer’s point, I’m satisfied.

  11. No CheatingNaturally, I want
    No Cheating

    Naturally, I want a page-turner. I won’t hesitate to stop reading in mid-sentence if a book begins to weary me. But on top of that, if it is a page-turner, it better have a satisfying ending, or I feel cheated. The old “it was all a dream” ending almost always sucks. Even if the reader is left to wonder if it was a dream or reality, as in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it should still have some significant resolution, which A Christmas Carol does.

    Also, a book, story, or article should deliver what it promises. The only negative example I can think of at this moment was not the author’s fault. I came across a collection of light reading, somewhat after the fashion of Reader’s Digest. The cover boasted, “In this Issue: The Gonzo World of Hunter S. Thompson.” I bought the publication only to find a short, fairly straightforward sports commentary by the Doctor. I don’t blame Thompson. He is, after all, a sports fan, but I bought the thing expecting acid fiends, brazen sex, or at least a clubbed swordfish.

  12. The Doctor writing straight
    The Doctor writing straight up,
    damn Bill you must have torn the magazine to shreds.

  13. I like what you said about
    I like what you said about choosing a book by looking at the first chapter & the author’s bio. That’s a good idea.

    Also, I agree with you that “Wisdom is the application of knowledge.”

  14. A very capable and
    A very capable and well-written summary of Catch 22!

    And I really want to “hold a mirror up to the world and tell others what I see in that mirror while stringing the reader along with the narrative.” That is a great way to look at it! Thanks.

  15. EscapeWhen I open the pages

    When I open the pages of a book, I want to dissappear into a different world. I want to meet new people and get inside them and understand them. I want to feel that I am investing in a relationship that will hold me in its power and, as a few books have done for me, when I near the end I want to be made to slow my reading so I can savor the feel of this place and these people just a tad bit longer. I want the writer to make me care about who I am reading about and what is happening.

    If I gain new insights and understanding about life and what makes all people tick, a new philosophy, why that’s just frosting on the cake.

  16. A Willing Passengertrue rings
    A Willing Passenger

    true rings deep
    i wanna be rung by a book
    i want my brain to be re-wired and activated
    i’ll turn pages to keep the sensation going and i want the author to take me higher.

    No junk. No plastic mindfill. No cliche or banality. Make the words work new waves on my brain.

    I’m a willing passenger. Book – take the wheel and drive me.

  17. even in sports we find
    even in sports we find meaning.
    search again, bill. surely hunter is there somewhere.

  18. Well, there was another HST
    Well, there was another HST article in which he talked about James Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who purchased the actual scroll on which Kerouac wrote On the Road. That was kind of interesting. And I find it fascinating that Thompson and Nixon discussed football with each other.

  19. i have a colleague from
    i have a colleague from England who is known to shake her head in earnest and say: “Any port in a storm”…

    we, who crave hunter take him wherever and whenever possible


  20. I wanted to understand
    I wanted to understand Shakespeare so I started reading Joni Mitchell.

  21. Uncharted TerritoryIn reading
    Uncharted Territory

    In reading someone’s work, I just want to respond with, “I wish I had thought of that,” rather than, “I could fix this.”

  22. Forgive this sequence of
    Forgive this sequence of waters….

    A line from Neruda. When I read a sequence of poems I want texture and density. I am not a page-turner, but a dweller. I want to be able to dive deep in reefs of splendor, find underwater caverns, old wrecks, hidden treasure. The language and world of the work has to make visible the invisible, touch the depths. I don’t read to be entertained. I read to be transformed. As Emily Dickinson put it, you know if it good if it knocks the top of your head off.

  23. Old FriendsIn my living room
    Old Friends

    In my living room there is a bookshelf made of cinder blocks and redwood two-by-six’s. The top plank holds a couple of small sculptures, an incense burner, and several candles. The rest of the shelves are crammed with my favorite books, books that contain some of my favorite people.

    Now, I’ve read books with great plots and books that turn their own pages, books that enlighten and books that entertain. Great themes are universal, springing up from one piece of literature to the next. That’s what makes them great, they touch our common human experience and we can relate. Stories are made interesting by applying universal themes to an interesting plot. The best plot in the world however, is something much less without good characters to support it.

    When I read a book, I want to feel the joys, pains, and passions of life through the characters. I want to get to know them and by knowing them, better know myself. In the last chapters I want to dread the end, dread losing those characters, and when I read the last sentence I know I’ll feel just a little bit hollow. I’ll close the book and think about the characters, and then I’ll put them on the shelf in my living room where I can feel free to visit them any time like old friends.

  24. Ten bucks and a pack of
    Ten bucks and a pack of smokes

    I mean, if we’re talking about what we really want…


    You know, page turning is where it’s at (with the proverbial two turntables and a microphone, even), and I’d like to take this moment to point out one teeny little detail: no matter what anybody says they want from a book, if they’re getting what they want, they’ll be compelled to turn the page. Unless of course, it’s all about finding perfection on page 1 and I didn’t get the memo. So, to my thinking at least, a more appropriate way of framing the issue would be to ask, “What makes you want to turn the page?” (And not in a Bob Seger way. Or maybe in a Bob Seger way. I don’t know. Different strokes for different folks, right? And now I’m thinking of Gary Coleman, so I’d best just move on.)

    What makes me want to continue reading something after I’ve started it? Many things, really. Some books I’ve read through to the end because the plot was compelling. I’ve read some things because they’re filled with marvelous wordplay and reading becomes sort of like a game. I’ve read other things for the ideas expressed and they way the books make me think, and still others because the writer created absolutely fascinating characters.

    So it depends. Each book is its own adventure, and I read different things at different times because I’m looking for something, um, different. When I think about it, really consider the books that I’ve loved, I guess it all comes down to the writing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it when authors are show-offs with “Look at me! Aren’t I clever?” prose, but good, skilled, well-crafted writing is what keeps me reading. Something I can enjoy in the moment, yet still pause and marvel at a great sentence here & there. Sometimes I forget entire plots, but I have a knack for remembering really good lines, which is just another reason why I appreciate Tom Jones like I do.

    Which isn’t really related to the topic at hand, but good lines… well. There you go.

  25. Yep, that’s the one. I’ve
    Yep, that’s the one. I’ve read all the comments, came up with nothing of my own, but I’m going with truth too.

    All the best writing is definitely a tearing of the skin. That’s what I love so much about Anais Nin’s books, she tears her skin off with an elegance and grace I never knew skin could be torn with.

    Yep, truth is the answer. And whenever I find that my own writing has gone downhill, it’s usually because that’s exactly what’s missing from it.

  26. Something DifferentI desire
    Something Different

    I desire something new when I read a book. I do not desire a chronological newness neccessarily, just something that shows me something different with the author’s view of the world.
    I want to a different kind of language, a different type of character, or maybe just a different twist on an old story, or something as simple as new information.
    I just hate books that repeat the same viewpoints as the author’s previous works (Tom Robbins, Grisham), formulaic literature (98% of fantasy/sci-fi) or books that simply fall back on a tradition.

  27. Your statement — “If I gain
    Your statement — “If I gain new insights and understanding about life and what makes all people tick, a new philosophy” — is about engaging in life.

    Your correspondent feels that this is what successful art does: the text should be a slice out of your life.

    What most commuters are reading on the subway sadly isn’t that–an honest portrayal of one’s environment–because the writers who write well enough often have style that is too incoherent for a fast read.

    The TV teaches that tough subjects are boring. The majority of US denizens are now TV children and the internet and mobile phones are even shortening attention spans making the writer’s only goal–coherent style that engages the reader–an impossibility. Those that peddle pop culture do so most successfully by appealing to the lowest common denominator which has become even lower — gratuitous violence and sex — because too many are illiterate. A downward spiral results.

    Often people want to read to forget about their life and why should anyone’s life be so bad — ignoring the extreme situations — that they want to escape life rather than engage in it?

    Possibly there’s the dream of a better somewhere else, but if you don’t like the hand dealt to you, fold and get another, but don’t check out.

  28. Hehehe… Jamelah, I like
    Hehehe… Jamelah, I like that subject title and the comment. You are an astute analyzer as well as a font of pop entertainment references. You got to the heart of the question by pointing out that “What do you want from an author?” is basically the same as asking “What makes a page-turner?”. Hmmm… question mark, quotation mark, period. Can that possibly be correct?

    Of course, Beth Vieira made a good point, saying “I’m not a page-turner, I’m a dweller.” So I guess I should assume everyone looks at it the same way.

    Now, back to your subject line: Would you settle for a hand-rolled Bugler and some left over prize tickets from a skeeball game?

  29. OK, now, that really made me
    OK, now, that really made me think. Several of us assumed that “page-turner” was a given, but you have a refreshing take on it. A “dweller.” I like that.

  30. Well Bill, yes, I know. I’m
    Well Bill, yes, I know. I’m a genius. But I think I also mean that even the most dwelling of dwellers will eventually get around to the act of page turning, otherwise the stasis might cause some atrophy of important muscles. Because I’m not talking about page turners in the conventional sense, rather, that if there’s something in a book that sparks something within the reader, then the reader will be compelled to continue reading.

    As for the Bugler… well, you could just send it loose. I know how to roll my own.

  31. Correction to my last
    Correction to my last Message

    I meant to say, “I guess I should not assume everyone looks at it the same way.”

  32. More insightful still. I see
    More insightful still. I see now that with some practice, I can get into a moderate rhythm – dwell…turn page…dwell…turn page…dwell…turn p, no wait…dwell some more…turn page…

  33. I can really relate to your
    I can really relate to your statement, “In the last chapters I want to dread the end, dread losing those characters, and when I read the last sentence I know I’ll feel just a little bit hollow.”

    I told Hunter S. Thompson that’s how I felt about the ending of The Curse of Lono. That ending didn’t want to stop.

  34. A Desirable AuthorWhat I like
    A Desirable Author

    What I like in an author is someone that’s believable, someone who tells an interesting story.
    I love fiction with a twist of reality, but I also like to hear stories of an interesting life.
    In a lot of ways the authors I read and their stories have to possess something that I can relate to, as a human being AND as an writer.

    Now, I don’t think that’s a lot to ask… do you?

  35. To Get Youto another
    To Get You

    to another dimension,
    to teach you,
    to make you feel the action,
    the mystery, impatient
    to read more and more,
    eating the book with the eyes,
    to give you inspiration and imagination,to make you floating with the reading, to make you to discover more than you expect.

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