Sunday, April 8, 2007

What's your favourite?

I loved that "My Favourite Book" program on the ABC. And like a lot of people, I looked up the list of the top 100 books that were voted for, competed with Paul as to which of us had read more of them (he won, naturally), and then proclaimed that I was going to read to all of them.

And then, naturally, I never did.

I think I figured out why (apart from general slackness). There's no personal connection to a list of favourite books voted for by the general pulic (or rather, the general ABC-watching public, which is possibly quite a distinct subset). It's just a list of books - you don't know who liked them, why they liked them, and you can't tease them because you know they chose their 'favourite' just to sound intellectual.

I thought about a book that my grandfather loved, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee". I gave him a copy of it a million years ago, but I've never read it. I thought to myself, lying in bed (the natural thinking-spot of all humankind), "I should read it. He loved it, and that's important to me, so I should read it."

Then I thought, why should I just read his favourite book? I should read everyone's favourite book, everyone I know and love. Some of these people are passionate about books, some of them are not. Some of them still read a lot, some of them don't. But pretty much all of them can choose a favourite or two.

I'm embarrassed to say this, because it's a bit soppy and even thinking it to myself makes my "sentimental claptrap" antennae quiver. But, [deep breath] I think a favourite book can tell you something about a person - their childhood, their sense of humour, their email login and password. If nothing else, it can tell you what their favourite book is.

That kind of idea appealed to me way more than tracking the literary loves of the ABC's voting nation. A completely biased, non-random, non-valid-sample-size of people (I always knew my Psychology minor would be useful for something, if only knowing what makes for a valid sample).

Earlier this week I asked all my loved ones that I could get hold of to tell me what their two favourite books in all the world are. Friends, family, penpals, friends of friends, colleagues. People generally fall into one of two camps when asked this question - type #1 say "This book is the best book in the world, ever, and no better book has or ever will be written, ever." Type #2 first of all berate me for only allowing them to choose two (hi Sean), draw up a shortlist of 100 over the following week, and then finally and painfully name their two favourite books. This type often follow up with repeated disclaimer statments about how difficult it is to choose only two, and how I really should have allowed them several hundred nominations. But I would like to read these favourites before I start to develop dementia, so sorry dudes, you have to choose two.

Now I will read them. All of them.

This may take a while. It's hard to read and sell stuff on eBay at the same time.

I won't read them in any order, or thematic grouping. The first book I'm reading has been chosen because the person who named it grabbed it off a shelf and put it in my hand.
But I will write here about each one after I've read it, and I'll try to avoid being a reviewer, but it is kind of my default setting. Once I've got everyone's answers I'll compile a list so you can see what's ahead of me. But I'm not going to tell you which favourites belong to which person (but feel free to 'out' yourself), I'll just include some comments they made when they told me about their choices.

Naturally, being a librarian, I've had to lay out some rules.
  1. I'm not going to read "Ulysses". Sorry Paul. I just can't do it.
  2. I don't have to read it if I've already read it. I might, though, depending what it is.
  3. I can stop reading it at page 200 if I really, really hate it (I've only stopped reading one book in my life, John Updike's "Couples". Yergh. So, it's not likely that I'll stop).
  4. It needs to be written in English (apologies to my penpals, but I'm just not going to get much out of a novel in Finnish. Ask Nil if she remembers when I attempted to show off my newly acquired knowledge of Singhala characters by reading a kid's book about a cow, written in Singhalese. No idea what happened to the cow. I know it was white.)

There might be more rules, if I think of them...

So...what's your favourite?


Ma said...

Is it ok if my friends give their fave reads, too? They all want too... but I'm not sure they fit your 'loved ones' criteria. I know they fit mine!

Anna said...

Yeah bring 'em on...I at least KNOW your friends! Unless it's Ulysses of course. Or the Triton User Manual.

Anonymous said...

OK! I will pass that on... we will see if they really DO it!