One of the most confounding questions I get as a bookdealer is “What is your favorite book?” I stand there stupidly with my mouth open for a moment. It is not what they think…which is probably “What a stupid bookdealer…she obviously doesn’t read much.”
Meanwhile, I am thinking “How many galaxies are there in the universe? How many grains of sand on the beach? Your favorite wine? Or dessert? Or flavor of ice cream?”
Sometimes what they really mean is “tell me what to read.” Sometimes it is like the question “How are you today?” They don’t truthfully want an answer. Sometimes I reply “How much time do you have?” And they think I’m kidding.
Because there is no one overriding favorite. There can’t be. You cannot compare the genres, the multitude of categories, apples to oranges. Modern fiction is not the classics. Westerns are not mysteries. “Narrative non-fiction” about history is not the same as a history textbook. Entertainment reading is not reading for information or for the lyrical quality of a prose-poem. How can you compare the taut beauty of Charlotte’s Web or the absolute perfection of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to To Kill A Mockingbird? Or the life-changing impact of The Secret Garden with the depth of Report to Greco? The sweet lyricism of Loren Eiseley to the narrative non-fiction of David McCullough? These are among the hundred or so at the top of my list.
I am a slow, absorbent reader. Yet, by my calculations, since I began reading books around the age of five, I have 63 years of reading behind me. If I read only 10 books a year that equals 630 books. One book a month – we are up to 756 books. If you bring that up to 20 books a year, which is my average pace, that is 1,260 books. At least one year I read 52 books as a challenge. Imagine how many books an editor or book reviewer might have read.
(I was once struck speechless by a young man who bragged that he had not read a single book in his lifetime.)
It would be easier, I tell my inquirers, if I were to tell you what kind of books I like.
a well written one (Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
a lyrical one – like fine wine you savor every sentence and re-read many (Loren Eiseley, Toni Morrison, Anais Nin, Kate DiCamillo)
an engrossing one – you are living inside this book (Shogun, by James Clavell,)
an entertaining one (the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon)
a fascinating one (Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen)
a funny one (Stiff by Mary Roach)
one that stabs you with a new level of understanding (Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison)
one that makes you feel (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
That’s what I like.
How about you? What’s your favorite book? Can you name just one? Or one hundred?