Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Makes a Book a Favorite?

When you love books, as so many of us do, conversation inevitably comes around to the question of "what are your favorite books?" This is such an interesting question because it is revealing...we seek to know and understand each other better by knowing what books we value. It's a tiny glimpse into what makes a person tick and what their values are when we know what books they love above all others. Or so we think.

I was considering this, because when the question comes around to me, I have a few standard answers. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, because I loved it so fiercely when I read it--it was a huge epic story to me. Silence by Shusaku Endo because it is beautifully and heartbreakingly constructed, it grapples with the essential questions of faith to me, and it altered forever the way I think about persecution. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, for it's amazing characterization, epic love story, and the way it made history spring to life on it's pages with unexpected timelessness. These are all really safe choices. Hundreds of other people would probably say the same thing, they are tested by time--classics.

There are some other safe choices of modern times. The Harry Potter series--a series my conservative Christian friends warned me against when it first came out, I will never forget borrowing it from a co-worker so I could know for myself and falling in absolute irreversible love. (and thus beginning many years of frustration with people claiming the books were "satanic") Harry Potter reminded me what it was like to love reading, to escape into another world and fully believe it was real. And The Hunger Games trilogy, a series jetting it's way to favorite status once the series was complete and I could see how masterfully it was constructed and how complex the story it had to tell really was. I don't often obsess over books, but I sure obsessed over Mockingjay for days. (It also helps that it has one of my favorite literary couples! :)

But what about the books that maybe aren't classics or global best-sellers? What about books that are slapped with genre labels and considered quite forgettable by many? Books that won't be shortlisted for literary awards anytime soon. What about the books we love for the way they take our minds off our troubles or in a single phrase speak into our loneliness and remind us we aren't alone?

I was thinking about that this week, when the movie trailer for Something Borrowed came out. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin is a book that I consider a favorite. I probably wouldn't list it when asked, but it's a book I'll never get rid of, it's a book that I have very strong and distinct memories of reading, because it gave an expression to something I had experienced in life that I hadn't encountered in a book before. While my situation wasn't identical to the one in the book, the authenticity with which Giffin writes about relationships is undeniable. The way she depicts human interaction feels so real. I'm glad to say that I've felt this with every single one of her books I've read, I believe this is her gift. But Something Borrowed gets dismissed as chick lit, probably as a fun summer beach read. Sure it was definitely a best-seller, but would a serious reader really think it's a favorite? Well if not, I guess I'm not a serious reader.

Another book that falls in this category? Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella. I can remember just tearing through the book the first time I read it, laughing and even um, crying a little. I just loved it so much because it was one of those reading experiences that was pure pleasure.

I think this is the reason I have issues when people feel the need to go at length about books they feel are inferior. It's why I just can't jump on any particular bandwagon about true literature and all of that. There's a special chemistry between book and reader and we can never predict what will make a book stand out for us. Classics are, in many ways, I think books that just resonated with more people. Books are many things. They are works of art that preserve a sense of our time, they are conversations passed down through the generations, and they are also intensely personal experiences when we open our minds and hearts to the ideas and stories of others. If a book has reached into the our isolation, helped us know in some way that life as we know it is known by another, if it brings us joy, if it stirs our heart to kindness, if it is solace in the storms of our lives..its value is immense.

So what makes a book a favorite for you? Are there any books you consider to be a favorite that you think others would look down on you for liking? Do your favorite books constantly change or do the memories associated with reading them play a part?

And for's the trailer for Something Borrowed.


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.