It takes me nine minutes to answer eighteen questions, and two weeks to answer one.
I stare at the two-word query for what seems like hours:
Favourite Book (so we can add it to our members’ library)
No question mark—why bother with punctuation when the question is already impossible? A single line’s worth of space, so I can’t even be sneaky and write a list.
And that’s when I have a light bulb moment: a list! I can’t come up with my favorite book on the spot. That would be ludicrous, impossible. First, I need to write a comprehensive list of my favorite books. Twenty or thirty titles that I love, that have truly moved me. That changed my life. It won’t answer the question, but it’s a first step. I’ll work my way from there.
The first one that comes to mind is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. An assigned reading (10th grade World Literature, Ms. Guimarães’s class) that I thoroughly enjoyed. The writing style is beautiful: simple, lyrical. The effect it had on me was profound: it would not be an exaggeration to say that I went on that journey with Siddhartha. I was there when he crossed the river, when he met Kamala, when he discovered Om.
For a moment, I am certain that I’ve found my favorite book.
Until I remember The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Again, assigned reading (Mr. DeJohn’s 9th-grade World Literature class). Nine-year-old Pecola’s story made me feel—anger, fear, confusion—but it also made me think. It was the first time I realized that I’d never owned a doll that wasn’t white. It made me question the role that media has on shaping our society’s thoughts and feelings. It made me reflect on the role that religion plays on subjugating already marginalized peoples.
I almost write down, The Bluest Eye…but something gives me pause.
As much as I love Ms. Morrison’s novel, would it be fair to say that I love it more than Siddhartha? And what about the dozens of other beautiful, powerful novels that I read growing up? Their titles flood my mind.
The Slum by Aluísio Azevedo
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Girl in the Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
O Quinze by Rachel de Queiroz
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Rebellion in the Backlands by Euclides da Cunha
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
The list is endless. And I’m only thinking of the books I read before turning eighteen.
I need a break, I decide. I put down my pen and pour myself a glass of wine. This feels like a tomorrow problem.
“What’s this for?” my sister asks me. We’re sitting in my living room, drinking coffee.
“The club I’m joining,” I say. “They have a members’ library.”
“Sounds like your kind of place.”
This is true: anywhere with a library is my kind of place.
“But how am I supposed to answer the question?” I ask.
“What was the last book you read?”
“Hunger,” I say. I’m a big Roxane Gay fan.
“I just read that!” she says. “I loved it.”
“Me too.” I nod. “But not best-book-of-all-time love.”
“Then how about your favorite book of the year?”
It’s September, so I’ve already read quite a few books. I pick up my iPad, open up Goodreads and go through some of my favorite books of the year.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
The Locals by Jonathan Dee
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Afterlife of Stars by Joseph Kertes
“Stop,” my sister says, holding up her hand. “You’re making it worse.”
She’s right, of course. Scanning my 2017 “read” shelf on Goodreads only reminds me of how many good books I’ve read. This is counterproductive.
Besides, the question does not specify a time frame.
She sighs. “You might have to just write down any book.”
I shake my head. It feels wrong, somehow. “Like I’m betraying all the other books,” I explain.
My sister nods, her lips curled into a playful smile. “Well, you wouldn’t want to hurt the other books’ feelings.”
I stick my tongue out. “You’re no help.”
Three days go by. My membership application sits at my desk, incomplete.
I decide to call in reinforcements. I text my book club friends.
Ladies, I’m supposed to fill out this membership application form. But I’m stuck on number 16. What would you answer?
Two of them text me back almost immediately.
SARAH D: That’s a tough question for sure. I could maybe (MAYBE) make a top 10 list but 1 fav is hard!!
I shake my head at Sarah’s innocence. She is just as avid a reader as I am. There is no way she could come up with a top ten list. I tried. It cannot be done.
JOELLE: Lol—you could just pick something really random and obscure—and have them search for it—but that’s probably just my terrible sense of humour. Or—since they’re going to add it to their library maybe pick something you think more people should read, and maybe someone will one day.
I love both of Joelle’s ideas. But my linear, stubborn streak is determined to answer the question properly.
My husband and I are cooking dinner.
“It would be easier to pick a favorite child,” I say.
He frowns. “Baba is an only child.”
Baba is Babaganoush, our beloved English bulldog.
“Hence the ‘easier’ part,” I say.
“What if you think about it in a different way?” he says. “Imagine that we’re living in the world of Fahrenheit 451—the firemen are coming and you can only save one. Which would it be?”
“That’s a depressing,” I say, chopping a green pepper with a lot more force than necessary. “I wouldn’t want to live in a world where there’s only one book.”
He considers this for a moment. “And you’d probably pick a long book. So it would last longer.”
“True,” I concede. “Or a trilogy. Would that count as one, do you think?”
He shrugs. He’s given up on helping me. I don’t blame him. I’m almost giving up myself.
“How about your book?” my mom asks. She’s referring to my unpublished novel.
“My book hasn’t been published.” I refrain from adding the adverb yet. An aspiring author’s dilemma: we want to be positive, but we also don’t want to tempt fate.
“So what? The question didn’t say it had to published.”
“But it’s not my favorite book,” I tell her. “Besides, how narcissistic would that be? Picking my own novel as my favorite?”
“It’s my favorite,” my mom tells me, her voice going up an octave.
“Mom, you’ve only read a first draft!”
“And it was brilliant!” she cries. At this point only dogs can hear her. Dogs and me. “My daughter wrote it! It’s the best book in the world!”
Say what you will about my mother: she’s not shy when it comes to dolling out compliments.
“Mom, you’re supposed to help me,” I tell her. “I give you reading recommendations all the time. Do you remember me ever saying that one was a favorite?”
“Oh, who can keep track of something like that? You read too many books! You always have! Remember? Since Ms. Eleanor’s class!”
Of course I remember. Many people contributed to my love of reading. No one more than my father—he was my fiercest bookish supporter. But Ms. Eleanor definitely deserves some credit. She was there when the reading seed was planted in my brain. She was the one who—
“Sorry, mom,” I say, aware that I’m cutting her off. “I have to go. Love you!”
I hang up. I sprint to my desk (“sprinting” takes me all of two seconds, my apartment is small—I live in Toronto), pull out the application form, and answer the question.
Less than five minutes later, I’ve email the club. Application form attached.
Favourite Book (so we can add it to our members’ library)
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (because it’s the novel that made me fall in love with reading).