Our Reading Lives

Why I Never Recommend My Favorite Book

Abby Hargreaves

Staff Writer

Abby Hargreaves is a New Hampshire native living and working as a Children’s Librarian in Washington, D.C. She fulfills the gamut of the librarian stereotype with a love of cats, coffee, and crocheting (and likes a good run of alliteration). Her MLIS degree enjoys the company of a BA in English from Hollins University, making Abby an advocate of women's universities. Her favorite color is yellow.

It’s rare for me to actually recommend my favorite book. I talk about the novel all the time and even tell people it’s my favorite, but I rarely directly suggest they read it. I’ve thought a lot about why this is. As someone who was in middle school at the height of the pop-punk reign, there were bands I held close to my heart and didn’t tell friends about because (and this probably true throughout the history of time) it was only cool to like what was uncool and underground. The more people who knew about a band, the less cool it was. So I listened to bands like MxPx and Lola Ray on the down-low. But after a lot of thought, although I associate my favorite book with this period in my life, the reasons why I didn’t share my favorite bands and why I still don’t recommend my favorite book do not match up.

In fact, if there’s any reason I do encourage people to read my favorite novel, it’s because the simple math is, if more people read it there’s a higher likelihood that the publishing industry will publish more books like it. And believe me, do I ever want more books like it.

The title of my favorite book is not some big secret. But to say to someone, face to face, that they should read that book—particularly if I know I’ll see this person again—feels wrong. I typically wait until I’m at least prompted to tell people the title. I don’t volunteer the information otherwise. And folks don’t ask a lot. I suspect this is because many people don’t think, out of all the books I’ve read, I could possibly have a single favorite. At least, people have expressed surprise when I tell them that, actually, I do.

So if it’s not out of a desire to keep the thing that I like underground (and, therefore, “cool”), what is it that makes me keep it so much to myself?

Recently, I started asking the kids at my library their favorite song as I started to build a list of songs for a dance party. Few of them were willing to divulge. I watched their faces pinch in shyness with small, embarrassed smiles.

And it was then that I realized why I don’t volunteer to talk about my favorite book too often: embarrassment.

secret favorite book

The embarrassment comes not from me feeling the book is not an objectively good book, but because this book is such a large part of who I am. To recommend this book, to encourage someone to read it, is to offer them a door into me. The book is both as much a part of me as I feel I am of it. Its lead character is a fictional embodiment of who I want to be. She lives in the kind of world I wish I did. She has steadfast friendships and drive. To recommend my favorite book is to expose myself.

Reading has always been an intimate experience for me. I’m not one to showcase the covers of books I’m reading in public places or to ask others what they are reading with the aim of getting them to ask me what I’m reading. I keep a Goodreads account, but I don’t frequently link it to my Facebook, and unless I get the sense a person I’m speaking with also feels this way about reading (or can understand it), I don’t talk about books while I’m reading them. But it is especially true with the book nearest to my heart.

This is, perhaps, motivation to be braver and less guarded. It’s an opportunity to say to the world, “This is me,” one reader at a time.

But that’s another story for another day, and now I pose this question to you: how does intimacy play into your reading life?