There Can Be Only One

Monday, April 19, 2010

This recent article about 50 famous authors and their all-time favorite books got me thinking: what is my all-time favorite book (and by extension, what are your favorite books)?

There are some interesting choices on this list.  Russian writers like Tolstoy, Nabokov and Dostoevsky were popular.  Since Ha Jin is a novelist from China, his choice of Tolstoy's "War & Peace" was fascinating to me (if you've not read Ha Jin's novel "Waiting" you should pick it up).  Stephen King's choice of "The Golden Argosy" was equally thought-provoking.

I think looking at this list leads inevitably to the idea that the books these authors favor is somehow reflected in their own writing.  Things that make you go "hmm" indeed.

My favorite is a tie between three books at the moment, although, like sands shifting across a desert scree, my favorites change from time to time.  Presently, in no particular order, my top three are:
I like these three for different reasons, but it mostly boils down to two fundamental elements: story, and the quality of the writing.  Looked at critically, I don't see a through line or theme in these three books; I can only conclude that they each scratch a different literary itch, so it's difficult for me to pick only one.

What about you?  What's your favorite book?  Why do you like it so much?  Any advice on how to narrow my three to one?

23 bolts from the blue:

Pam Harris said...

Hmm, I didn't know this question would be so hard! I think my favorite book of all time changes with my mood, but I do agree with you about "Lord of the Flies." This is one of the first books that I was required to read in school that I actually fell in love with. I think Golding does a fantastic job of showing good vs. evil without being blatant. I may add "Living Dead Girl" by Elizabeth Scott to my all-time favorite book list because that novel still haunts me to this day.

Jon Paul said...

Hmmm..."Living Dead Girl". I hope I'm not showing my ignorance by admitting I've not heard of it. But I'll go have a look see. I love getting recommendations and expanding my horizons.

Thanks Pam for dropping in.

SM Schmidt said...

Very simple: I refuse to pick a favorite book. That is like asking which of the hairs on my head is my favorite: I don't know I sort of like them all together, on my head of course. Same with the books on my shelf. If I did not like a book, it is no longer on my shelves.

Just Another Sarah said...

This is a very, very difficult question. First--there's no way I can tell you how to narrow it down...I have a list of favorite colors. I keep adding to it, too, so it's only getting longer!

As to my favorite book(s)...well. I could write an essay, and in fact, I started to, in answering I'm going to write it as a post. For tomorrow. Something to look forward to? :)

Scott said...

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Simarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

As you can see, I have trouble picking a favorite, but the first two are books I read over and over again. In fact, pretty much anything by Guy Gavriel Kay I'll read over and over again.

Travener said...

One Hundred Years of Solitude. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. David Copperfield.

Jon Paul said...

Schmidty--You make a good point. It is a silly silly game, isn't it?

Sarah--I'll look for that tomorrow. I'm curious what you'll say already!

Scott--I'm a big Tolkien fan. Always have been. And they are high on my list. Not as familiar with the others. *scribbles them down on TBR* I'll have to check them out.

Thanks guys for your thoughts and for stopping in.

Natalie Murphy said...

Oh, I love Micheal Ondaatje! THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a gorgeous novel. Have you read RUNNING IN THE FAMILY? It's about his childhood growing up in Ceylon and it's fantastic. Very beautiful to read.

Jon Paul said...

Natalie--no I haven't read "Running In the Family", but I have read "Coming Through Slaughter" and "In The Skin Of A Lion", both great novels. I really enjoy how he writes, and his use of language is pretty amazing.

Jon Paul said...

Trav--Sorry. Must have been synchronously posting. I am huge Joyce fan too--and "Portrait" really gets to me in a way few other novels do.

Thanks for coming by.

Nells said...

such an interesting blog!!i loved your posts..
i have read running in the family but in a crappy greek translation.i was looking for the original one but i couldn't find it!!
still it was astonishing!!

Liza said...

My vote is with SM Schmidt. Too many to choose from, too many to remember...

Charmaine Clancy said...

My top three are 'The Great Gatsby', 'To Kill A Mockingbird' and 'The Book Thief' if pushed I'd say The Book Thief just sneaks past the winner's post first.

Christi Goddard said...

Mine are nothing alike.

"A Clockwork Orange"
"Watership Down"

Jon Paul said...

Liza--OK. Looks like I'm outvoted.

Charmaine--Three as great as ever. I'm about half-way through "The Book Thief" now and liking it a lot.

Christi--Wow! Yeah, quite a spread there. It takes me back to that question: what do these choices say about us as writers?

Thanks ladies for stopping by.

Donna Hole said...

I'm thinking The White Dragon by Ann McCaffrey. But Stephen King's The Stand draws my attention a lot. It really is too hard to choose.


Rachel Fenton said...

In the Skin of a Lion is my favourite Ondaatje - probably my favourite book as it's the one I reccommend the most. Love English Patient, too. Great choices! I love his poetry also - The Cinnamon Peeler's Wife entrances me...

I like to keep my favourite book slot fluid though....

Claire Dawn said...

My top three are:

13 reasons why
To Kill a Mockingbird
Cosmethique de l'ennemi

It really bugs me that Cosmethique has never been translated :(

Honourable mention for Lord of the Flies.

Jon Paul said...

Donna--I loved "The Stand", although it's been years since I read it. Am I right in remembering a rumor I heard that King updated it? Might be worth another look.

Rachel--"Lion" was a great read, wasn't it? Ondaatje's prose is so muscular; definitely something to strive for in our own writing.

Claire--"Cosmethique"? Hmmm...need to check that one out to. So much to read; so little time.

Thanks ladies for stopping in!

Christine H said...

The Fellowship of the Ring. The writing and imagery are absolute poetry, and the complete otherness of Tolkein's fantasy world is absolutely enthralling. I like this one the best because it's not as dark as the others, and has a lot more humor in it. However, The Return of the King has the best ending. The movie totally botched the spirit of it. Totally.

Jon Paul said...

Christine--Another one of my favs. Yeah, I thought the movie was hit and miss--I do believe it was a relatively faithful retelling, considering the size of the endeavor--but yeah, the read was better.

Thanks for swinging by!

Lola Sharp said...

Um, I feel like Sophie making the choice of which child to save! You're killing me here.

A lot depends on my mood, and the mode I'm in. BUT, I have to agree with the English Patient being somewhere on the tippy-top of my list. That story, his lyrical writing, THAT ENDING! (That's either love or necroph-- um, creepy in a strangely beautiful way)

The criteria for me is how long does it stay with me, haunt me. Do I want to read it again.. and again. Does it make me stop in mid passage in awe, savoring in my mind the imagery and/or emotion of what I just read, before going back for more.

Or if I need smart witty literature, does it make me laugh out loud and want to read it again, and again.

Meghan Ward said...

East of Eden is my favorite book. I was blown away by how well it was written and how fantastic and complex the story was - a fantabulously evil villain (Kate), the good and bad brothers, the philosophical servant, the amazing descriptions of the landscape - everything about it is amazing.

Waddaya wanna say?

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