I have discussed genre elsewhere, and have always said, what matters is quality. Now how do you define Quality?
Sarah … came trotting by with her watering pot between those two doors, going from the corridor to her office, and she said, "I hope you are teaching Quality to your students.". ..
Quality . . . you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others . . . but what's the betterness? . . . So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?
Robert M Persig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I now have an easy definition which works for me as far as books are concerned- do I want to put it on my bookshelf beside Dickens, Austen and Gaskell? I am at the age where I can no longer be bothered with stuff I don't want- ornaments, kitchen gadgets, saggy socks- and books that I am unlikely to read again. They don't get as far as a shelf: an unwanted book moves straight from the bedside table to the hall-stand. In other words, it's on its way out!
Our reading group, attached to our local Library, has just finished reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Now, although I read it quickly and with enjoyment ("It slipped down easily" said our librarian) it will not have a permanent place on my shelves. It's well written, it's a bit of a page-turner, the characters are interesting. So why? The twist at the end is satisfying in terms of story telling- in other words it's unforeseen and quite clever- but morally, it's a complete cop-out. I get the feeling that JP has engineered it to twist our heart strings! The issues raised by the book however, are important and suck any reader in- designer babies, sibling rivalry and love, possessive and controlling mothers, and filial love. It engendered lively and long discussion. One reader summed it up as "A pot-boiler about serious issues".
Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Sister by Rosamund Lupton, which shares some of the same themes- although not the central one. I found this book more emotionally engaging and true while still wanting to find out what happens next. And yes, I will read it again- it's earned its place!