This week’s question about my favorite books is, as you’ve probably guessed, going to be a bit more difficult than merely spitting out some title and moving on. Then again, this is my 16th answer, just over 30% done for the year of this project, and if you haven’t figured out by now that none of these answers are that simple for me, well then, you haven’t been paying attention.
“So, let’s talk about books,” he says, sitting in a home office surrounded by hundreds of tomes. To begin with, how important is it to have books around? Well, according to The Guardian:
In that case, Monki is well and truly covered. She’s got more than 80 books on the shelves in her room, let alone the books around the rest of the house. In fact, one of the games she likes to play is to pretend to be Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, and come into my “bookshop” to borrow books. Her favorites are the Taschen Little Superhero Books series. And when I was growing up, we had all sorts of reference and other books on the shelves, including two sets of encyclopedias (Funk & Wagnalls and Britannica Junior) which I would consult regularly, often cross-referencing them.
But Monki’s favorites aren’t the question, are they? No, the question is what are my favorite books? And the honest answer is…
I don’t know.
See, here’s the problem: I love books in general. I love reading, have since I was little. My folks say I was a late reader, I don’t rightly remember. But I do know that in fourth grade I got in trouble for skipping recess to stay inside and read (I remember reading the novelization of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in a very short amount of time). I also remember, around that time, helping out with the scholastic book club orders*. At 9, I would co-ordinate the sales and mark the order sheets. When the books came in, I would take care of sorting and distribution. I was like an early, one-kid version of Amazon. Back then, the special was if you ordered 5 books, you could pick a sixth for free. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if Bob ordered 3 books and Mary ordered 2, that was 5 books and a free one was in order. What took me much longer to realize is this was a great way for a teacher to supplement their own classroom library. Instead, I used it as a way to supplement my own library. Payment for all the hard work I was doing.
One of the books I got from that little scam was The Shark in Charlie’s Window, which is still on my bookshelf here in Lithuania. I brought it with me. So in that sense, I guess this qualifies as one of my favorite books, even if it’s been years since I read it. Part of me is worried that if I read it now, it will lose the magic it once held. I mean, I know it’s impossible to re-read these books from childhood with the same fresh eyes, but can you put yourself back into the mindset, or at least remember what that mindset looked like?
I haven’t read the Hardy Boys books since I was in the high single digits, but I absolutely remember devouring them with abandon, going so far as to annoy my grandmother when she bought me a couple and I read them so fast she had to go get me more. In fact, My Bubby Sophie had made a deal with my sister, that she would buy her the next book in a series as she finished the previous one. When I asked her if she’d make the same deal with me, the answer was a decisive “no!”
As I hit my teenage years, obviously, my favorites changed. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey held the top spot at one point, introducing me to the more adult ideas of science fiction. Another contender for favorite, This Perfect Day, by Ira Levin, introduced to me by my ninth-grade English teacher, cemented my love of SF, which remains strong to this day. Part of the problem, at least it used to be, was when I discovered a book I liked, I’d end up reading whatever I could by the same author. Usually, this would also lend itself to finding new favorites.
Maybe instead of “favorite” I should go with the idea of a “top” list? But even that would end up being a bit overwhelming, I think. But hey, what the heck, let’s give it a shot anyway?
With the ones already mentioned, I should add in A Princess of Mars (heck, the entire Barsoom series, really) by Edgar Rice Burroughs and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, which I discovered in 1984 when I worked at Waldenbooks in the Meadows Mall.
These are just the science fiction books. In terms of comics, Superman, From the 30s to the 70s launched me into the graphic realm, where I ended up discovering Ghost Rider with issue #35. But hey, I’ve talked about these things before.
This doesn’t even touch the other genres (The Burglar Books by Lawrence Block, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, or Lamb by Christopher Moore) or non-fiction (Dino by Nick Tosches) which are first up when people ask for recommendations, which I suppose is another way to recognize a favorite. Sure, I try to tailor my advice for the individual asking, but don’t we all tend to fall back on things we like first and foremost. I’m not sure I ever promote something I’m definitely not a fan of.
You know… I was going to write out a list of books in the various genres that I liked, that I would consider favorites, since there are so many and I didn’t want to forget any, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that’s not how this should work. At least not for me and not for today. Instead, I’m going to leave it as it stands.
These are my favorite books, for now. They probably won’t change but I certainly reserve the right to add to this list as I see fit. I know for a fact there are books and authors I haven’t mentioned and probably should have, like Neil Gaiman or Fredric Brown or C.L. Moore, but those will have to wait for the next time I answer this question.
*If you’re not familiar, the idea is that you get a flyer with all sorts of books, all at incredibly reasonable prices, and it gets run through the school, so it also acts as a fundraiser.