Earlier in the year, I took a long hard look at my list of Favorite Books on my Facebook profile. I kind of threw a list together when I opened my Facebook account five years ago, thinking that a person who claims to be a great reader and a book lover should have a respectable long list of Favorite Books. I don’t remember now what that list contained specifically; I just know that it was longer than it should have been. It also contained catch-alls, such as “anything where Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover,” and “anything I’m not required to read.”
This, I decided, would not do.
Thus, I culled down my list. As it stands on Facebook right now the list contains the following books:
* Presidential biographies
* Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
* The Educated Imagination, by Northrup Frye
* High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
* Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg
* A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
* Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
* Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
* John Adams, by David McCullough
And I feel like this list is not enough. I have read some very fine literature in my time, and stopped to take a breath as I turned the page as the author wove the story and turned the words. But being fine literature does not automatically mean it deserves to be my “favorite.” Also, there are books I have loved for years, like Anne of Green Gables or Bridget Jones’s Diary, books that share a long history with me and have been there for me, but do they really deserve a place on an adult’s list of “favorites”? Conversely, there are books that I have read once, decided I loved, and therefore debated putting on the list even without sharing that long history. How can I deem a book my favorite if I’ve only read it once? I wouldn’t bestow the title upon an album, a food, a person without some consideration and experience, so why would I do the same for a book? In the last year and a half, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth have taken my breath away and reminded me why I want to write — and read — in the first place. But does that mean they should be on the list?
As a result, I thought I should take a little time while I still have time to read with abandon and reread some of the books I’ve called my favorites, both on the current list and in the past. As I know my tastes have changed, my attention span has changed, my patience has changed, I won’t be surprised if the list changes as well. I also won’t be surprised if there ceases to be a list.
Coincidentally, Roger Ebert (whose I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie was on the Favorite list for a good five years before I decided it was silly to call a book a favorite when it was a compiliation of movie reviews — even if they were excellent movie reviews) decided to do something similar. He said on Facebook yesterday (about the same time I independently started this post):
Having been given this book by a friend who believes I have a lot of time left, I am inspired to begin a new Facebook project. Every day I will post a book I have read and seriously loved in one way or another. Nobody ever spends enough time to my satisfaction looking through the bookshelves of my lifetime, so here’s my opening.
He’s not declaring favorites. He’s simply declaring love. Thus, I’m in good company.
So far I’ve only reread two books I’ve recently (i.e., within the last six years) had on the Favorite list: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Both books deserve their own post, and they will get their own post, but to sum up: Bryson wasn’t as good as I remembered, and Hornby was even better.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope there are lots and lots of books waiting for you under the Christmas tree.