I have a Master’s in English and people know I love to read, so I get asked that question a lot. If you’re a reader like me, then I’m sure you do too. And, if you’re anything like me, then perhaps that question is just as hard for you to answer as it is for me.
When I was in elementary school my favorite book was The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn. In fact, at that time she was probably my favorite author. I loved her ghost stories. I can’t even count how many times I must have read The Doll in the Garden, but I know it was a lot.
During my teenage years I read a lot of popular fiction. I started with John Grisham at a very early age (I think I was 11 the first time I read The Client.) My favorite novel at that time was A Time to Kill. I must have read that one at least two or three times, even before the adaptation starring Matthew McConaughey was made. I haven’t read anything by Grisham in years, mostly because the last few novels I did read by him were extremely disappointing. I don’t know whether his writing has just gone downhill, or whether my tastes have changed, but I’m too afraid to go back and reread those early novels I loved so much in order to find out.
Now I have no idea what my favorite novel would be. I often just say Pride and Prejudice whenever someone asks, because it is definitely high on the list and one I go back to at least once a year. However, despite my love for the book that just feels like a cliched girl response. The Time Traveler’s Wife is another one that’s pretty far up on the list. I recently just reread it a second time and loved it just as much as the first. Aside from Pride and Prejudice though, the books that I probably still reread the most would be the Harry Potter series. Does that make them my favorite book?
I think part of what makes it so difficult for me to define my favorite book is because I have a very distinctive image in my head – whether it’s an accurate image or not – of what a favorite book should be.
In my mind, I imagine someone’s favorite book being a worn-out paperback that they’ve read dozens of times. It immediately falls open to the sections they’ve reread the most, revealing highlighted or underlined passages, pages bent down to mark favorite pages, and the reader can quote dialogue or sections by heart. Someone once told me their favorite book was The Phantom Tollbooth and they kept a copy of it in their car so whenever they were waiting on something or someone, they could grab it and read it.
That is what I imagine a favorite book to be – sort of like a best friend or a security blanket, something that’s always there for you. By this definition though, I’m not sure you could classify any of my books as a “favorite.” None of them are dog-eared, or highlighted (except for text books) and while Pride and Prejudice is probably closest to my favorite novel the only lines I can quote are the ones that nearly everyone knows.
Part of this could be a result of the fact that until recently I was determined to keep all my books in pristine condition no matter how many times I read them. It wasn’t until the last few years (probably when I started grad school) that I finally relaxed my standards and allowed myself to start writing in my books (textbooks I never cared about, it was the novels that I struggled with). So maybe my books just aren’t worn in yet. In writing this I have developed a strong urge to reread Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (which truthfully I’ve wanted to reread since I read Cary Elwes’s book) – I loved each of those the very first time I read them; could one of them be the “favorite” I’ve been searching for?
Or, perhaps I just haven’t found that one novel that really speaks to me; the one that I would read and reread, memorize and mark up. In which case, I don’t feel sad that I haven’t found it yet, but excited that the experience of finding that book is still ahead of me.
So, what is your favorite book?