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Favorite Books

August 15, 2022

Do you have a ready answer when someone asks “what’s your favorite book?” I have several answers, depending on the context and the questioner. Because of course we all know it’s impossible to pick just one.

Here is a list of book titles I’ve probably given at one time or another as an answer to the question of what’s my favorite:

Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Butler, Parable of the Sower
Card,* Ender’s Game
Fford, The Eyre Affair
Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Goldman, The Princess Bride
Harkaway, The Gone-Away World
Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Irving, Cider House Blues
Jiles, News of the World
Joyce, Dubliners
Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea
Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Percy, Love in the Ruins
Rowling, Harry Potter series
St John Mandel, Station Eleven
Slonczewski, A Door Into Ocean
Stephenson, Anathem
Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Turner, The Thief
Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Wells, Murderbot series
Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber

*Ron comments that the inclusion of this author suggests that I should write an essay entitled “Books I Love by Authors I Hate”

Auden, Collected Poems
Berryman, The Dream Songs
Browning, Poems
Byron, Don Juan
Dobyns, Cemetery Nights
Larkin, Collected Poems
Stevens, The Palm at the End of the Mind

Children’s books
Anderson, Feed
Chabon, Summerland
Cooper, The Dark is Rising
Dahl, Matilda
de Larrabeiti, The Borribles
Doctorow, Little Brother
Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy
Funke, The Thief Lord
L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Nesbit, Five Children and It
Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
Rex, The True Meaning of Smekday
White, Charlotte’s Web

Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Orwell, 1984
Pope, The Rape of the Lock
Voltaire, Candide

Chekhov, Three Sisters
Giraudoux, The Madwoman of Chaillot
Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer
Kaufman, The Laramie Project
Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
Shakespeare, Othello
Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Short Stories
Doyle, Sherlock Holmes
Faulkner, Collected Short Stories
Gilchrist, Victory Over Japan
O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find
Welty, Collected Stories

Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim
Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
Wallace, Consider the Lobster
West, Shrill, Notes from a Loud Woman

The main criteria I used for listing “favorites” was how many times I’ve re-read my copies of these books. And compiling this list made me realize that one of the things that makes a novel a favorite for me is if it has a surprise, like Anathem, The Gone-Away World or The Thief.

I include only one Shakespeare play, Othello, because my pleasure in it comes more from the lines than from seeing a particular performance. But I do recommend the 1995 Laurence Fishburne Othello with Kenneth Branagh as Iago, a 1989 filmed version directed by Janet Suzman with John Kani as Othello, the 2001 film adaptation with Mekhi Phifer entitled O, and the 2001 British film adaptation with Eamonn Walker and Christopher Eccleston. Also Stage Beauty, the 2004 film that centers around a production of Othello, with Billy Crudup and Claire Danes.

And I only included one book each by favorite authors, which is in itself an impossible choice, like picking only one by Heinlein. For a favorite series I sometimes just put the title of the first one.

When asked by non-academics, I often say that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is my favorite book.

For my “READ” poster, I chose Collected Poems of Philip Larkin, because that’s the answer I most often give people who are already readers.

How do you answer this question–what’s your favorite book(s)?

26 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2022 8:40 am

    The common response to “What’s your favourite book?” is the comeback “It’s like asking me to choose my favourite child.” Even narrowing it down by listing genres is too impossible, I believe.

    So here’s how I’d approach it: whichever titles I’m prepared to reread, indeed, have read, multiple times, are on my lists of favourites. And my current favourite would be whichever one of those I’d be enjoying at the moment.

    And about a dozen or so of those happen to be on your lists..

    • August 15, 2022 10:35 am

      My CURRENT favorite is indeed a good way of narrowing it down. And I love your comeback. I’ve read that some parents actually have favorites, but to me it does seem an impossible question (and that brings me back to why I left Sophie’s Choice off my list of favorites?).
      I was hoping that some readers would find a dozen or so favorites we have in common.

  2. August 15, 2022 10:31 am

    Love that you’ve given this a go. I’ve read and liked a handful of books in your first list, but probably none of them would appear in my list (though I did LOVE The Dubliners).

    Mine would have Jane Austen without a doubt, and Albert Camus (The plague). There’d be Patrick White’s Voss. And probably JM Coetzee’s Disgrace. A sentimental favourite though it’s a long time since I read it would be Alan Paton’s Cry, the beloved country. I really love novellas, so there’d be a couple of those, but a really long book that I love is Rohinton Mistry’s A fine balance. Hmm, the thing about my list is that, while some have the odd flight of fancy (like Voss) they are really ground in reality!

    My poetry would include TS Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    My go to Shakespeare is Macbeth. (Have you seen Hamilton? There’s a lot of Macbeth in that)

    • August 15, 2022 10:40 am

      I have seen Hamilton, but I have not watched it while thinking consciously about Macbeth. There are so many lines from that play that my family uses in daily life! “When will we three meet again,” for instance, and a reference to “Birnam Wood” whenever any of us pick up a branch.
      It’s hard not to include a poet like Hopkins on my list, but I don’t reread him (or Eliot) the way I do these other poets. I feel like the poems I love by Hopkins are burned into my brain and I can recite big chunks of them from memory!
      You’ve given me a few new books to try, since they’re your favorites–thanks! (I’ve not read Voss, Disgrace, or A Fine Balance.)

  3. August 15, 2022 12:50 pm

    I love your list and your Read poster! I love a good many of the books on it as well. I think an essay on “books I love by authors I hate” would be a fun read. 🙂

    • August 15, 2022 12:57 pm

      Then I guess I’ll have to write the essay! Who would be on that list besides Orson Scott Card? Would it be only contemporary authors, or would I include the standard controversial literary figures like Ezra Pound?

      • August 16, 2022 5:34 pm

        I guess it would depend on how long the list is 🙂 I know on mine I’d have Piers Anthony. I loved his Incarnations series but as a human being he’s a misogynist turd.

  4. August 15, 2022 12:59 pm

    Jeanne, this post is like catnip for me.

    From your list I would also pick Station Eleven (which I intend to reread soon), Harriet the Spy, and Animal Dreams as favorites. And of course, Harry Potter. Othello is also my favorite Shakespeare play. But I have enjoyed many others from your lists.

    As for me, it does vary, but today I would say: Station Eleven, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, Middlemarch by Eliot, Bunnicula by Howe, and Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.

    • August 15, 2022 1:06 pm

      Oh, thank you! You’ve given me a number of books to look up–I’ve never read Anastasia Krupnik, Beautiful Ruins, Case Histories, or The Book of Delights. (I do love The Box of Delights by John Masefield.)
      Bunnicula was a particular favorite at my house when our kids were younger. We had a cat called Chester, after one of the animals in that series!

  5. August 16, 2022 1:05 am

    I love lists like this. No way I could pick just one! At least 40 to 50 spots are required. I did a list once where I chose one book for each year of my life, but I’m afraid it vanished when I closed my Facebook account.

    Faves we have in common are:
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    A Wizard of Earthsea
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    The Thief
    The Dark Is Rising
    Harriet the Spy
    A Wrinkle in Time

    Mostly children’s books! I’ve read and liked many of your other choices, though I wouldn’t consider them favorites. The ones above all meet the reread test.

    Other books I read over and over:
    The Deptford Trilogy – Davies
    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Clarke
    Jane Eyre – Bronte
    Watership Down – Adams
    Right Ho, Jeeves – Wodehouse
    Fire and Hemlock – Jones
    Till We Have Faces – Lewis

    I’ll have to reread Othello, maybe for next year’s Reading the Theatre. It’s not one that I have read and seen repeatedly, I think I only read it once in undergrad. Stage Beauty was a good movie too. I’d like to see that again.

    • August 16, 2022 8:41 am

      We have a lot of the same favorites in terms of re-reading. I thought about Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as favorites, but I don’t reread them regularly, although like Hopkins, they live in my imagination all the time!

  6. August 16, 2022 3:10 am

    I think my favourite books tend to be the ones that make me feel something, may it be joy or sadness. There is a small book called Callanish by William Horwood that I absolutely adore and is very special to me. My usual answer to my favourite book is The Picture of Dorian Gray, because it’s the one that had the biggest impact when I first read it as a late teenager. Every time I re-read it I love it just as much as the first time, maybe even more.

  7. August 16, 2022 6:57 am

    Wow, this list is huge! I always have a hard time with this question for reasons that relate to the length of your list, but I think my go-to answers are Fire and Hemlock and The Color Purple, in part because those are two books I’ve had enough years with to be confident in my continued love of them. At some point, any book that I’ve kept rereading and kept finding satisfying into adulthood become among my favorites.

    • August 16, 2022 8:45 am

      Sometime I’ll have to reread Fire and Hemlock. I’ve read that most people find rereading it rewarding!

  8. August 16, 2022 5:20 pm

    My impression is that “favorite” is closely tied to childhood reading, although obviously, given some of the answers here, not always. Just a question of time, for one thing – which books are my oldest friends.

    So I would likely answer Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, an old, old friend.

    • August 16, 2022 9:45 pm

      What a good old friend! Thinking of that book makes me think of a line from the movie Love, Actually about how “true love lasts a lifetime.”

  9. Tabatha permalink
    August 17, 2022 11:55 am

    Your favorites that are also my favorites include: Ender’s Game, The Princess Bride, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Harry Potter series, Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time, The Importance of Being Earnest, Sherlock Holmes. Other favorites include: Doomsday Book (Connie Willis), The Westing Game, Phantom Tollbooth, Macbeth, Stiff, Nature’s Best Hope, Where the Red Fern Grows. Children’s books are heavy on my list.

    • August 17, 2022 8:30 pm

      As Tom points out, favorites are closely tied to childhood reading.
      Do you mean Stiff by Mary Roach? We have that in my house because a friend sent it to my husband; I’ve not read it yet.

      • August 18, 2022 7:10 am

        Yes, Stiff by Mary Roach. Between that, Doomsday Book, and Where the Red Fern Grows, I am apparently a fan of books where death is a headliner…

  10. August 18, 2022 10:41 pm

    I see Wizard of Earthsea on your list. Hurrah for Earthsea. I bought the illustrated complete Earthsea books just around the time Le Guin passed away planning on rereading them all in retirement. I’ve reread the first two and loved them. It’s nice to savor them slowly.

    • August 20, 2022 9:37 am

      The Earthsea books have a strong anti-necromancy theme!

  11. August 23, 2022 8:57 am

    Our Satire lists would be the same, minus Pope since I have not read that. I would have to think long and hard to make a list like this.

    • August 23, 2022 9:04 am

      The Rape of the Lock may look daunting because it’s parodying the epic, but when you look at how it does that, it’s hilarious. My favorite part is when a soldier–a little sylph armed with a needle–is threatened with torture if he does not do his duty guarding the important lock of hair. Once you’ve read the description of the torture you realize that what he’s been threatened with is being held over a steaming cup of hot chocolate!


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