Posted by: Jeanie F | May 6, 2010

The “It” Factor

If you pay any attention to my sidebar widget “Now Reading” (and I’m not convinced that anybody does), you may have noticed that I’ve been reading the Vietnam War novel Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes, for an inordinate period of time. Okay, it is 592 pages long, but normally that doesn’t slow me down. And it is – really – fascinating reading. Whenever I pick it up I am instantly engaged. The problem is I don’t ever feel like picking it up. I can’t put my finger on the reason why. Marlantes has a story to tell, and he tells it well. It concerns an event that was of great interest to me at the time it was taking place. I was in college at the peak of the war and passionately opposed to it. Now, from the perspective of age and (I hope) maturity, I’m anxious to understand the experience faced by  the boys I knew who went there. Everything about this novel compels me to read it – but I keep finding reasons not to.

First I allowed myself “a break” while I read the monumental time-waster, Caught. Then I read Christopher Buckley’s review of Tom Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists, in the New York Times Book Review and immediately downloaded it onto my Kindle. Not a sample – and I didn’t add it to my “Wish List” – I bought the book sight unseen and started reading it immediately. Matterhorn sits abandoned, at least temporarily. (By the way, The Imperfectionists is great!)

I know I’ll get back to Matterhorn, but I have to wonder – what is that indefinable element that makes a book something that keeps you glued to it till the very end? It’s not just a good story, nor is it just good writing. Those are both important, but I’ve come across many books with both – in fact, I’d put Matterhorn in that category – but it’s missing something that I, as a reader, need. What do you think comprises the “It” factor in a book?


  1. I for one do read the sidebars of blogs and did notice that you are reading Matterhorn.

    I have seen this novel mentioned on many “must read” lists, but war books are ones I tend to shy away from.

    As for the “it” factor, there are two I can think of. If there are engaging characters that I care about, then I want to know what is going to happen and that keeps me reading. Sometimes, suspense is a major factor. I read “Intensity” by Dean Koontz in one night, just couldn’t find a place where I could comfortably stop. I guess that is “the” “it” factor, not being able to stop because you need to know what happens next.

  2. I have no idea: I think that’s why they call it “it” factor, because it has no distinct antecedent.

    One thing I think we do tend to overlook is the effect of our mood at the time of reading a given novel. It matters so much and yet is so hard to figure out.

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