As a self-proclaimed avid reader, I inevitably get asked the dreaded question: “What is your favorite book?” Of course, if I’m speaking to a fellow reader who is sensitive about this question, I get in a more acceptable form: “What are your favorite books or authors?”
Either way it’s framed, it is a big question. As a novice to this conversation, I would fumble for a moment before talking about the latest book that I loved. Now, I have a more seasoned approach: I have answers prepared. My go-to book is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It’s a classic, and usually wards off further inquiries. On the off chance my conversation partner has similar tastes, I already know I have a friend. It’s a win-win, as far as I’m concerned.
The truth, however, is not that simple. Don’t get me wrong, Jane Eyre has my whole heart. It’s a story that has seen me through good times and bad, whose words simultaneously provide comfort and inspire wonder. I know it like a familiar landscape, all the fonder for the number of times my eyes have run over it. I know how it begins, the places to anticipate pain or happiness with the steadiness of knowing where the story will take me.
However, it isn’t the only story I love. How can it be when there are so many captivating voices and stories out there? The question now is, how to decide? What makes a book a favorite?
For me, there isn’t one specific reason that I call a book my favorite. Or rather, no one reason that would apply across the board. There are some stories that stayed with me. Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend combined grit, ambition, and friendship in one sweep. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake was the first time I read about South Asian characters in a novel.
Others found me at a difficult time. Northanger Abbey made me laugh and Song of Achilles got me out of a reading slump. Still others I love only because I associate a certain period of my life with them. The Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong kept me company in high school, and I cannot think of Kafka on the Shore without thinking of sophomore of college and reading under the sun.
I am tempted to say that all my favorites have been read more than once, but again, this isn’t strictly true. I’ve read Morrison’s Beloved once, but it was enough to blow me away. When I branched out into new genres, I found new gems. Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds inspired a love of contemporary poetry while Tara Westover’s Educated proved that real life can be narrated just as compellingly as fiction. What can be said about all my favorites is that I always look for more from the author, in hopes of discovering yet another book to add to the shelf.
My favorites shelf has evolved over time. My heart is clearly a fickle lover. If you asked me what my favorites were in high school, you would get a slew of YA fiction, a lot of which I’ve revisited since then. I turned to literary fiction during my first two years of college before letting loose in my third year and reading a little of everything. Now my tastes range across genres and I’m all the more grateful for it.
My reasons for selecting a book as my favorite are entirely personal. I’m sure there are others who have widely different reasons for falling in love with a book, just as there are those who found themselves nodding along to this article.
So, fellow reader, what is your favorite book?