Readability: what makes a book readable?

There’s an article I read recently about readability, and how different people find different things readable. There was something else entirely that stuck to me in the piece though – a quote from another writer and another piece (which I did not read) about how finishing a book is a sign of strength.

It got me to thinking about the times at which I’ve given up on books and the times I’ve slogged through books that have entirely lost me as a reader. For the longest time I seemed to live that quote – I needed to finish a book, and sometimes I found myself turning a page and skimming text, and forgetting it the instant I started the next page. It’s been ingrained in me since I started reading to finish a book.

Yeah, and then I grew up and realised it was perfectly alright to find things unreadable. There’s way, way too many better books out there I could be enjoying.

But what makes me give up? What are my criteria for a book being readable?

Humour is at the top of my list. Humour in a fiction book is one thing that will make me a fan of a book instantly. Snarky, funny zingers that leap off the page able to make me laugh in an instant are things of beauty. This is from A hero at the end of the world:

Five years later, Ewan Mao sort of, kind of, accidentally became evil. And then he helped destroy the universe, which was even more embarrassing.


“Of course not,” said Archie, his gaze fixed on something over his shoulder, “I’m worried you’ll fail and Lord Ravager will discover my mum was plotting against him and I’ll get shipped off somewhere unspeakable.”

“Like where?” Ewan asked curiously.

“I can’t tell you, obviously. It’s unspeakable.”

I constantly find myself re-reading parts of it just to get the full effect of the witty retorts. And, it’s the kind of writing that makes me think the author must have the enviable knack of never lacking for a reply to anything that anyone says. I’m more the type of person who’ll think of the best thing to say hours after I should have said it.

But, humour doesn’t work without pacing – most things won’t work without the right type of pacing. In Hero at the End of the world, when the book begins, and as the author is setting things in motion, there’s no need for a fast-paced action or rapid-fire humour. Instead, she sets up situations and dialogue, that results in zingers that have not yet failed to crack me up:

“At her words, something Ewan hadn’t felt in a long time began to stir within him, something that, after having been so angry and depressed for so long, he almost didn’t recognize: hope. Put like that, maybe his entire life hadn’t been a waste. Maybe he was the type of person someone would want on their side.

Their side.

“Wait one bloody minute,” said Ewan. He snatched his hand back. “Are you evil?”

I can’t wait to see what happens as the story develops.

The action scenes, while not quite putting the ‘action’ in action-packed just yet, but they’re still filled with snarky comebacks:

“It is time for you to die,” Ralph the Ravager wheezed, “so that I may absorb your powers and spread Zaubernegativum across the globe.”

“I’ll defeat you,” Oliver announced boldly, “because I am Oliver Abrams, the slayer of Duff Slan.”

“Oh, get off your high horse,” Ralph the Ravager said.

The duel begins directly after this exchange. The author has this wonderful balance between her humour and her pacing, that steadily propels her story forward.


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