Anyone who’s ever spoken to me or chatted online with me knows that I like to talk about books. Like, a lot. I’ll tell you what I think you would enjoy, what book I’m currently reading, recent new releases I’m excited about, or an under-read author who I think needs more readers. I’ll tell you what my current favorite book covers are, up-and-coming book cover designers I’m enjoying following online, and my favorite fonts for reading. I’ll happily recount book drama on the internet for the week and ask for your opinion on it, too.
But do not ask me what my favorite book is.
I understand this may be an innocent question, and what more could a book person want than to talk about their favorite book? But it’s my worst nightmare.
Maybe you mean my “all-time” favorite book, which I default to as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the book I will read again and again and learn something new each time I open its pages. But calling it my “all-time” favorite is hard, because there are so many categories of favorites.
Do you mean my favorite book that I was required to read for high school summer reading, which was Kindred by Octavia Butler? It was the first time a book really opened my mind up to thinking about racial inequality and others experiencing life differently than me. Or do you mean my favorite assigned book that I also had FUN reading, which is The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton? Or possibly the answer could be Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite book that taught me classics could be both thoughtful and funny, and that those two weren’t mutually exclusive of each other.
Maybe you mean a recent favorite book? But that could be anywhere from my favorite book over the last few years (We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry) to my favorite book I’ve read this year (Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley). Or it could be my favorite that I’m rereading (The Mediator by Meg Cabot), a series I have loved since I was an angsty teen.
But then, if we’re talking about teen years, I can’t leave out my favorite book that ripped my heart to shreds and pieced it together again, like A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray did. Or my favorite books that made me laugh so hard and brought me so much joy during the tumultuous years that are teenagehood, which would be the Georgia Nicolson series (Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging), prompting my friend and me to create our own dance and nicknames because of those books alone. Maybe you mean my favorite book club book — my first book club in 7th grade read A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, and it changed how I looked at reading in general, learning that I could not only go on great, fun adventures, but that I could also travel in time to learn of truly heartbreaking stories, stories that so many real girls experienced.
Or should I go all the way back and tell you about my childhood favorite, Nate the Great, a series about a young boy detective with his pancake-loving dog, the books that inspired me to carry a little notebook around just in case I found “clues” for a mystery to solve?
Even still, you could have possibly been asking about my desert island reads, the books I will take with me to a remote island and never get bored by. Was it that? Those also change with the (desert island) winds, but usually include The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield as well as And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
Or what about my favorite book that I feel like has had the most impact on me in thinking about the world today and my own views and privilege (The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison) or a favorite recent award-winner that I think more people should read to learn about the world around them (Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam)?
We haven’t even touched on favorite authors — of course, all the authors of my favorite books are also my favorite authors. But do you mean my favorite author with a huge backlist that I can count on loving pretty much any book from? That would be Agatha Christie. Or do you mean favorite recently published authors, like Celeste Ng and Helen Oyeyemi? They also have books that I’d consider in my favorites but generally don’t include in my favorite “books” category because they have so many!
I know you mean well by asking about my favorite book, giving me an easy opening for small talk. But there are so many options, so many categories, so many ways to take this. So some advice?
Please don’t ask me what my favorite book is. Or, if you do, be prepared for a dissertation.