As a pre-internet reader, I liked books or I didn't like them. Simple as that. Sometimes I could point to an emotion a book created in me, or a confusing chapter or funny character - some specific reason for my opinion. But even then, things usually boiled down to I either liked it or didn't like it, and that's all I told people when I talked about that book.
Then I became a writer, and my writing classes told me to read like a writer. I was to look at plot and characters and writing devices and style and all sorts of things I'd never noticed before. I began to look at books in a new light and then use that in my own writing.
After that, the next step for me was to become a book blogger. Many writers never take this step, and that's okay. For me, though, once my eyes were opened to the mechanics of a book, reviewing became natural for me. Oh, it still took work. I reread my first few book reviews on this blog a while back and cringed before quickly closing the tabs. I've definitely gotten better at both reviews and writing in general since then. (I've also become an insanely fast typist - friends and family alike are a bit shocked. It's a convenience at times but makes for a lot of typos.)
Blogging about books makes me not only notice, but consider and compare those literary devices and writing lessons I discovered as a new writer and, later, high school English student. I learned about alliteration and assonance, red herrings and foreshadowing, mood and theme, depth and allusion. I noticed those things in books. I thought about them and talked about them and wrote about them and used them myself. Through this whole process, I came to learn a lot more about the mechanics behind writing and uncovered much of the mystery behind books, especially what makes a good book, a bad book, and the elusive great book.
No matter how much I - or anyone else - studies, though, we will never completely figure out what makes a book popular. What, exactly, grabs a reader's attention or takes over her heart is not something that can be pinpointed. In part, that's due the different experiences that each reader brings to a story - it has been wisely said that no two people ever read the same book. The reader's perspective, life events, culture, family, relationships, and so many other things mold the stories they read into unique shapes. Even the same book read by the same person at two different points in life won't be the same story; that I know from experience.
Readers' experiences aside, there's still something nobody can put their finger on in the literary world. I have one book I've read more times than any other book. It's not my favorite. The writing, the characters, the plot - none of it is the best I've read. It's just a simple, sweet story. And yet something keeps pulling me back to it.
Stories of love, adventure, mystery, or anything else can be studied and analyzed and compared and contrasted and run through school classes and mathematic formulas and millions of readers and still have that mystery piece that either attracts a reader or doesn't.
That, my friends, is the mystery of literary allure.