One Question to Never Ask a Book Lover

Why, why, oh why do people ask me what my favorite book is?

Seriously, do these people not read? Because that is really the only explanation I can come up with. Because anyone who does read – who reads often, reads widely, reads for fun — will know that there is no such thing as a favorite book. There are amazing books, funny books, inspiring books, beautiful books, touching books, infuriating books, aggravating books, life-changing books and every other type of book in the world except favorite books.

To pick a favorite book is to assume that books operate on some sort of point system (hilarious dinner party, 4 points; thoughtful meditation on the meaning of life 6 points) that can produce a clear winner. You add up all the factors and pick the one with a highest score on your personal point scale. But books are not like that. Books are about the worlds they take you to and the things they make you think and feel along the way — or for days and weeks afterwards. For instance I may never stop thinking and feeling new things about Cloud Atlas, and I’m okay with that. Because that is what books do.

As a child who read and read a lot, I was used to adults asking me what my favorite book was — usually while interrupting me reading. I would start listing off a few titles and talking about why I liked them and which ones were good for which reasons, and sooner or later their eyes would glaze over, and I would wonder why they asked if they didn’t want to know. Grown-ups, I realized, seemed to think that “So what’s your favorite book?” was roughly on par with “So what’s your favorite color?”

All these years later, you would think it would have stopped, but people still ask that question when they find out I like to read. And all these years later, they still don’t really care about the answer. It’s their way of trying to talk to me when they can’t think of something to say since they don’t read themselves, or else of placing me in a neat category — “Oh, she reads literature” or “Oh, she reads weird foreign books.”

They don’t really care about the answer, but I do. Because picking a favorite book feels like some great existential crisis. Do I care more about the meditative power of Love Medicine or the word-drunk euphoria of Enchantress of Florence? Am I more invested in the question of what makes us human à la Never Let Me Go or in what makes us broken as in Play as It Lays? Which of the many profound books I have read over the years is the most meaningful? The most insightful? The most fun? Out of all the stories, which soared above the others? Of all the beautiful language, what was the best?

It’s an impossible question. So if you insist on asking, well, fine. Go ahead. I will probably dodge the question somehow with a polite, “Well lately I’ve been really into this author and her latest book…” or “I actually just finished this book called…” But it will still be a miserable question to answer. So instead, ask me what I’ve read lately, ask me what I want to read next, ask me what authors I like, hell, ask me what books I hate (no one ever asks me that). I love to talk about books, I do. Just don’t ask me what my favorite book is, please.