A friend of my parents', an architect named David Handlin, decided to read 100 great American novels in his retirement. He wrote about the project and published a list of the books he read on The American Scholar, and talked about my dad in the introduction to his list.
I loved how he ported his experience as an architect into his description of what he think makes for a good book.
Here it is:
In my professional life I am always thinking about quality. If that is true with architecture, why should it not also be true with literature? So here are the three attributes of Best.
Writing.I admire novelists who have a way with words, who create telling phrases, paragraphs, and chapters, and who carry a story from cover to cover with a consistent and unique voice that (dare I say it?) rings true. It’s that simple. But few writers achieve it. Most never get much beyond the workmanlike.
People and Places. It is possible for a writer to be a virtuoso stylist but have nothing to say. I read novels because they tell me about people. I am interested in the complexity of their thoughts and feelings and what propels them to action, especially in their relationships with other people. Novels that offer true insights about these matters will always be worth reading, no matter when they were written. Secondarily, since all architects are, however covertly, environmental determinists, I am also interested in how novelists describe places, natural and manmade, and their effects on people.