Personally I enjoy books because they offer the possibility to explore hypothesises. I also enjoy stories that poses questions or that casts light on situations we no longer reflect over because we are so used to them. Too used to them, sometimes. Like the concept of humanity, or the role of religion in conflicts, or whose subjective ideas are viewed as objective truths. Like the concept of power, or history.
The best authors are those who manages to ask all these ‘what ifs’ while at the same time conjure believable characters and a page-turning story.
I’m not hardcore on the characterisation stuff, though. I really really want believable characters BUT sometimes the author makes such a good job with story and ideas that I can accept the thin personalities. Books by Neal Stephenson (this link goes to his Wiki page – this one is for his website) usually fits this last category, this latest book Anathem a point in case.
I also enjoy books for the comfort they bring. Some books are like old friends. Other books are made for reading while you’re sick or generally low. Some of them are the same as those above, but not necessarily so. I used to reread Good Omens whenever I felt down but nowadays when I am sick I mostly reread the Foreigner series.
Some books are stuffed with fast carbohydrates. Pleasurable while they last but leaving you feeling empty afterwards. I think the Dresden Files a typical specimen. It’s like fast food, fluff. Fun, and don’t bear scrutiny.
Others are elaborate, yes, byzantine!, mysteries that challenges the mind’s puzzle solving faculties.
Of course books can also be a source of knowledge. When you use them as such I think it important to look at them and ask when were they written and what are the objectives of the author. Because in some cases even textbooks and encyclopaedias can be prejudiced. Just pick any 100 year old encyclopaedia and check the word ‘Africa’ if you don’t believe me. Racial bias didn’t get non-PC until after wwII.
So many uses for books, and all statistics (from Statistics Sweden, in Swedish) show people read less and less.
Makes me sad.