It causes shudders of frustration, mind somersaults of decisions, and an explanation with lots of “ums” or “wells” or sighing in general.
Someone bold enough to consider asking such a question has also probably uttered queries about why Snape killed Gandalf or which episode Captain Kirk and Darth Vader faced off in. Depending on who they ask, they will either get strangled by the Force, stupefied with a swish, or perhaps given a large eye roll by the less defensive person in the room.
The question in question: What is your favorite book?
As an English major and an avid reader I receive this question more times than I can count. I have also watched as professors, classmates, and fellow readers wrestled with the question in painfully awkward moments of long silence or stuttered excuses. There is a reason that Goodreads has an entire element of their website devoted to book lists. In fact, we could probably fill an entire book with the various lists of books that exist out there.
Why is it so difficult, you ask? I could also make a list of reasons, but here are my top three:
- There are different genres for a reason: not all books are the same. Juxtaposing science fiction against a memoir is like trying to compare robots against puppies. Each genre involves a different range of expectations, style, and story development. It is safer to ask someone their favorite book in a specific genre, but you are still left with an ocean of choices.
- Decades change the scoring system altogether. Many books gained respect over time and became classics because of their ability to touch on universal themes. Literary writing styles also developed in accordance with declining public attention spans. War and Peace is considered a classic, but few people would call it a favorite because they think Tolstoy took too long to get to the point. This disregards the significance of Tolstoy’s innovation as well as the popularity of longer novels at this time in history. Trying to compare books written in different periods involves a complex analysis of varied language, writing styles, and historical context.
- I don’t ask you to pick your favorite child. This may seem extreme to some people, but book junkies will understand the deep emotional attachments that emerge between a reader and a book. So I didn’t actually give birth to it myself, but I carried these books lovingly for a length of time, watched out for their well-being, and saw part of myself in the eyes of each page. Picking a favorite just wouldn’t be fair, especially for the awkward middle book that no one else likes but I know its unique special qualities and love it anyways.
In case you still feel a deep desire to know people’s favorite books, you can check out this list of the 10 Best Top 100 Book Lists. That’s right, people even make lists about the best lists because it’s impossible to choose just one.
And if you still persist in asking such questions, go ahead and ask a cinephile their favorite movie, or a chef their favorite dish. I will have the ice ready for your ego when you get back, and a stack of books waiting for you.
What do you say when someone asks you about your favorite book?
Why do you think it is difficult to choose a favorite?