When people discover my uncontrollable love of reading, they tend to ask me one question: “what is your favourite book?” I hate this question. And the people who ask it. And, to be honest, everything that isn’t a book.
If you are a person who reads a lot and really enjoys so much of what you read, and have done both of these things for your whole life, is it even possible to name one favourite book? Should such a thing even be possible? If I am able to pick one book out of all the books, doesn’t that make me look like a less good reader, somehow?
Am I, perhaps, just overthinking this?
I have a lot of issues with choosing a favourite book. The first is this: all books are different, even the ones which are a bit the same, and so to choose one book to rule them all is an entirely reductive suggestion.
Additionally, I’m not much of a re-reader; there are just too many books in the world, and they keep bloody making more. How can I be expected to read all the books if I occupy my time with the ones I’ve already read? There are some exceptions; I read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch every few years because I relate to it so strongly, and I’ve reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale probably half a dozen times – sometimes for teaching purposes and sometimes just to torment myself emotionally. But surely to say that The Handmaid’s Tale is my favourite book would just be a bit weird? It’s deeply traumatic to read – more so every time I go back to it – and I’m not actually a masochist, so to call it my favourite would probably be wrong. I’ve reread Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion many times, and used to read Wuthering Heights during my degree whenever it rained (I went to university in York, which meant I reread Wuthering Heights a lot).
Wuthering Heights is a strong contender to be my favourite book, apart from one serious problem; it’s too predictable. I’m a woman, and an English graduate, and an English teacher; if I say Wuthering Heights is my favourite book, I might as well start wearing my glasses on a chain around my neck, write bad poetry and tattoo Shakespeare onto my own face. It’s too much of a cliché.
Even writing this, I hear how stupid this sounds.
What about those books I long ago proclaimed to be my favourite, confidently shelved and now haven’t read for years? I’m almost scared to read The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie again, having for years described it as my favourite book, despite now being unable to remember most of the plot. There’s a band. And some twins. Someone disappears, I think? Oh dear.
I’m a massive book snob, so I obviously can’t choose anything even vaguely popular as my favourite book, giving another reason for Wuthering Heights‘ exclusion. See also: Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. I’m also the kind of person who says annoying things like “well, Kings of Leon were only good until the third album” and violently denounces the Star Wars prequels. I can’t possibly proclaim to like anything mainstream. I don’t know why. Maybe I need therapy.
What even is a favourite book? Something you’d take to a desert island or save if your house was on fire? The book you reread the most often?
I’m interested in the views of other bookworms on this. Do you have a favourite book? Or does the question make you have an emotional meltdown too?