Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How Do You Define "Favorite?"

Here's a question I get asked all the time online (okay, mostly Goodreads). But still!

"What's your favorite book?"

Guys. This question is practically IMPOSSIBLE for me to answer. Distilling all the thousands of books I've read over the years into one or two favorites? How in the world do I choose? How do I decide what's my favorite?

Okay, I am a little indecisive. But it's not even about that. It's about the way I categorize books.


"Favorite" is a tough categorization. Basically, if I LOVE LOVE LOVE a book, then it falls into one of three categories in my head, which handily come down to ABC.

This first category encompasses many books that I'd label as favorites...

3. Cake Books

Cake is delicious and I love to eat it. In fact, when I get cake, I usually gobble it up right away. I stuff my face. I practically INHALE it. Cake books are the same. I probably stayed up late into the night reading each one. I probably giggled, gasped, or squealed at least once while reading them, and I've probably spent some time daydreaming about them since. There's no "literary requirement" here--a cake book can be serious or fun, deep and literary or light and fluffy. But either way, I was glued to the page, starving for more, unable to stop reading. And the experience of reading was delicious.

Examples of Cake Books:

The Hunger Games, Cross My Heart, Scarlett Fever, Legend, Divergent, etc.

2. Breathtaking Books

Breathtaking Books are the kind of books that opened up my mind, challenged me, or, well...took my breath away. Breathtaking Books are often classics, or Pulitzer Prize-winners, or literary tomes filled with poetic prose. I don't ever forget Breathtaking Books...in fact, I may find myself changed by them, remembering them often, or taking bits of them into my soul or my own writing.

Are these my favorite books?

I don't know. In a way, yes, as I adored them. But I don't always want to re-read a Breathtaking Book, even if I loved it, and sometimes I don't even recommend them to other people. There's something personal about them, something raw and honest and sometimes frightening. A lot of books in the Breathtaking Book category were hard to read, too...maybe they scared me, or challenged me, or exhausted me. They are experiences I'm glad I had, but I'm not sure if I want to relive them. They definitely spring to mind when people ask for favorites, but at the same time a part of me wonders if I'm being HONEST when I call them favorites. But they certainly deserve a mention all the same. I more than liked them, and I even more than loved them. I was touched by them, changed by them, challenged by them.

The Life of Pi was a Breathtaking Book for me. So were The Poisonwood Bible, The Blind Assassin, The Lovely Bones, Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Of course, some books are both Breathtaking and Cake:


Teach Me, Delirium, and Pandemonium, for example. I read them furiously but also felt humbled and moved by the prose and the stories themselves in a way that will stick with me for a long time. The Fault in Our Stars was maybe a cake book, but it's hard for a book about cancer to be a cake book. But still.

But then there's a third category...

1. Amnesia Books

I call these books Amnesia Books because I love them so much and I found the experience of reading them for the first time so enjoyable that I wish I could take a pill that would give me selective amnesia so I could read them all over again and enjoy them "fresh," not knowing what will happen.

For example, anything by Megan Whalen Turner is definitely an Amnesia Book. A lot of beloved books of mine by Maria V Snyder, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Robin McKinley are as well.

I can't decide if Harry Potter is an Amnesia Book or not. MAYBE. Truthfully, there's so many books in the series, and the latter ones are so long and chock-full of stuff, that I easily forget half of what has happened in between readings and so I don't really need an amnesia pill. But you get the idea. :)

Of course, Cake Books are often Amnesia Books, although I've found that Breathtaking Books usually aren't. I'm usually glad I had the experience of reading a Breathtaking Book, but it's often a taxing one that I don't necessarily want to repeat. Sometimes, though... Every favorite book is different.

I am most likely to cite an Amnesia Book when someone asks for my favorite. But that isn't the whole story, because all these categories encompass my favorites, just in different ways.


Readers--do you have a particular way of categorizing your favorites, or do you simply have one category--favorites?

10 comments:

  1. I am also not a fan of this question!! How could I have a favorite? I love them all! I can't say I categorize them, but I like the idea of cake books and breathtaking books. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Wheel of Time Series, Redwall Series - all cake books. I know this much is true, player one, are breathtaking books!

    I'm totally using this for my future "what is your favorite book" question!

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  2. so so sooooo true! i wonder how people ever pick one... same for favorite anything! film, color, animal? i don't know... i always try to think of something that in a way can define how i see myself, because that's what people are asking when they ask this kind of question, but it's never completely honest.

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    1. Quite true about picking something that defines you...I tend to do that same thing, which (haha) means I tell different people different "favorite things" depending on who's asking, because I know what they're really asking. They want to know who I am, and I have to decide what side to show them of myself.

      This conversation has turned a bit philosophical and introspective, hasn't it?

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  3. also, i have an actual cake book- it's put out by duff and the crew at charm city cakes and has bajillions of pictures of their creations and tidbits about them... i lurves it lots! and now i'm thinking, i (or you) should TOTALLY write a "cake" story set at a cake bakery with quirky characters and sugary masterpieces! :)

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    1. Haha, love that idea. Talking about "cake books" makes me kinda hungry, actually. Hmmm...cake. :)

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  4. It's a horrible question. I usually start listing books that I like, and favorite authors who I'll read no matter what.

    I prefer cheese books, though. Books about cheese, that is. Mmm...cheese.

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    1. Are cheese books ever cheesy? :D

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  5. I generally just reply Till We Have Faces. It pretty much has everything I love about stories: tragedy, poignancy, good characters, good prose, fantastical situations, brevity. It blew me away when I read it and does every time I reread it.

    But I know what you mean about fluff books. I would call them fluff books, haha. That's manga for me, most of the time. I suck at reading fluff novels since a lot of the time the prose is doing nothing for me. I feel like it's sucking away my talent.

    Amnesia books, yes, and as soon as you mentioned that I thought of Harry Potter. I think it's the only book(s) I would wish to read again from scratch. Because reading any book to some degree feels like an accomplishment, but that one never did.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean with that last sentence.

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