The Worst Question in the World

Last night I had to choose.

I felt shocked, embarrassed and just plain confused. An intriguing job has come open and they asked me to choose.

What is your favorite book?

“Oh, my sweet fish tank!” I exclaimed (more or less)

“brrrrrrip?” Inquired Terpsichore (honestly. don’t worry about it)

“They’re asking for my favorite boooooooook!” I wailed. (no, really, like a siren.)

Then followed a Great Discussion of the merits of one option over another, each leading us both to feel rather traitorous toward all the other Beloved Books we’ve ever read. Just as we’d settle on an appropriate favorite, we’d leap forward as one who has sitted upon a pin and introduce a new contender. It was a maelstrom of angst and turmoil!

How can you possibly pick a favorite book. Isn’t that like asking which brother is your favorite? As Terpsichore sensibly mentioned, that is easy enough if you only have one brother! What about she, who is blessed with three (rhyme!)?

I settled, in the end, on The Pale Horse. You’ve heard me speak of that before, I think. We decided I should pick the one I can talk about the longest without pausing for breath. Since I’m in the process of writing a book about Agatha Christie’s cultural impact, it would have to be something she wrote.

But really. How do YOU pick your favorite book? Can you? Have you? What criteria do you use???

It’s too late for this time, but oh! my fellow sailors on the sea of life, weigh in! What on earth do you do, how, and why


12 thoughts on “The Worst Question in the World

  1. Totally impossible to pick. Different books are my favorites at different times for different reasons. I might pick some poetry books, like maybe the Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, or of Kenneth Rexroth, or of E.E. Cummings. Or I might go with something like Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible,” because it’s so smart and moving at the same time. Or “Ursula, Under” by Ingrid Hill because it’s such a dark horse, and I love its sloppy awesomeness about the meaning of life and the joy of tangential thoughts and weird history facts. Or Haruki Murakami’s “Wind Up Bird Chronicle.” Or Patricia Wells’s amazing “Bistro Cooking,” though that might be a cop-out, but it makes the best cake ever. Or while we’re on the subject of cop-outs, maybe I’d go with Samuel Adler’s “The Study of Orchestration” because I read it more than all my other books. This is hard.

  2. You know, the mains reason I got such a quick call back from this job is because the headmaster was intrigued by my choice of “Favorite Book”. So your entire future may be resting in this choice . . . . . .

  3. I tend to smile and say, “Great question!” then depending on the audience, regale them with my top 5-10 or select one randomly and expound upon it. I don’t consider it a choice, I consider it a chance for sharing interesting information… you can also respond with a hyper-intellectual answer where appropriate, such as “Which literary period?” or “Poetry of prose?” depending on the audience. 😉

    For the record… those 5-10 for me include (vaguely in order): The Count of Monte Cristo, The Brothers Karamazov, Till We Have Faces, The Great Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited, Lord of the Rings, Persuasion, the Divine Comedy, The Magician’s Nephew and Much Ado About Nothing. I tend to stick to classics… nice post and excellent question!

  4. When people ask me “What’s your favorite book?” I just look at them as if to say, “Seriously? How can you even ask that?” I suspect those people who think in terms of one singular favorite book aren’t quite like us. The best I can say is, “Well, it depends on my mood. Sci-fi? Ender’s Game. Fantasy? Anything Patricia McKillip, Neil Gaiman, or Roger Zelazny. Horror? Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Wait–I mean Dune for sci-fi….” And etc. It doesn’t end. There is no favorite. I love them all!!!!

  5. I believe that Chesterton’s response when querried on what one book would he want to have on a desert island is relevant here. What matters, when selecting “one” book is the moment. Chesterton, for example, responded that he’d want a guide to “practical ship building”. An excellent choice for an island prisoner. Here, on Olympus, one may desire a high-altitude cookbook. The moment’s demand should drive the library search.

    And therein lies the beauty of books–there is one for every occassion. There should never be just one.

  6. Merph… what a cruel question! And how little it may tell about the person it is put to! For what use is it to know what someone’s “favorite” book is, without knowing WHY it is their favorite?
    If asked in casual conversation, I set my mulish ears back and refuse to pick just one. In a situation where, like you, Thalia, an answer must be given, I will try to qualify it.
    I guess my first move, if asked the dreaded question, is to narrow “book” down to “novel”. This simplifies matters considerably. If someone wants to know my favorite play, collection of poetry or short stories, how-to book, nonfiction book, picture-book, or my favorite encyclopedia, dictionary or cookbook, they can darn well be more specific! 😉 This also eliminates the Bible from the running, which removes a great complication.
    So, my favorite novel. A slightly less impossible question. If able to limit the novels by genre, it might actually be answerable, but that would be too easy.

    There are three criteria I use to evaluate books (why must there always be three? hmm…)

    1. How the novel moves me. This is completely instinctual.

    2. How the novel is executed. This considers what the writer’s intent likely was and considers how well they accomplished their goals and how. Style plays a great role.

    3. What was the point? This gives books that are intended to convey something more than entertainment an extra boost.

    … Nope. Still no good. I am still left with a handful of novels. Now it’s time to flip a coin. A coin is invaluable for decision-making. It is a direct link to my heart in circumventing my mind (no easy task) because if I am disappointed by the coin’s choice, I know that I may safely eliminate the novel it chose. If I do not mind the coin’s choice, then its choice is as good as any.

    If I had to chose just one (forbid!) this is how I would go about it.

    • I really enjoy your take on trying to pick when its a pick-or-die situation! Perhaps you saw, Scott listed a cookbook, so it would be a good idea for the Inquisitor to define his terms before he sets the thumbscrews.
      I liked your criteria (because 3 is an excellent number) and next time, I will flip a coin. 🙂 Thanks for your input!

      • The coin makes a great difference, at least for me. And I notice my grammar is rather bad this morning… I think a third cup of tea is in order. Thank you for the stimulating post!

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