I’m that random asshole who asks you “What’s your favorite book?”
The answers really vary—as much as the reactions to the question itself. Some people are amused by the question and look at it as a game. They think hard before giving me a thoughtful answer. Those are my kind of people.
Some people just respond with something along the lines of: “I don’t know, man. I haven’t really thought about it.” They usually leave it at that; thinking is apparently not something they can just do on command.
The worst kinds of people—other than the people who outright say they don’t read—are the ones who, for whatever reason, take offense to the question. I’ve actually been told to go fuck myself. These people think that by asking them their favorite book I am challenging their intelligence.
The reason I ask this question is a selfish one: I want to find more good books to read. I feel like—in a way—I’m paying these people a compliment by asking them their favorite books; sort of a way of asking to get to know them a bit better. Or that I trust their taste.
The responses to favorite books are somewhat surprising to me. Lots of people stick to their childhood favorites. (Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Redwall, etc.)
Many people pick thrillers or mystery novels. The DaVinci Code and Sherlock Holmes.
Some love science fiction. Michael Crichton has come up a surprising number of times.
A lot of my friends in business prefer to read non-fiction books. They often say something along the lines of: “I don’t really have time to read fiction. But I like to learn things!”Fair enough. Although I would argue that fiction can teach us more than non-fiction in so many ways. My nonfiction friends love to read Freakonomics and books by Malcolm Gladwell. They tend to like to think outside the box when they read.
Can’t forget horror! Lots of Stephen King readers out there. (And what I mean by a “Stephen King reader” is somebody who reads Stephen King and only Stephen King to the sole exclusion of anyone not named Stephen King.)
Stephen King. Maybe I should make a pen name called Steven King. Is that legal? I’m sure there are other people out there actually named Steven King. Hell, I’m sure there are other writers named Stephen King/Steven King. I wonder how they do?
Fantasy readers. They love George R.R. Martin. (And by love I mean they hate and resent him for how long A Song of Ice and Fire series is taking to finish. Any time poor George publishes a new book that isn’t ASOIAF they light their torches and sharpen their pitchforks.) Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time have also been named more than once. There are also still some Lord of the Rings fans out there—which surprises me a little bit, considering how much better ASOIAF is.
Lord of the Rings was a book that I proudly read when I was 11 years old. I toted that bible of a book—weighing at least 10 pounds—around with me for nearly a year. The pages were tissue paper-thin, and the font was—conservatively—no bigger than 4-point.
Needless to say, it was a struggle. But I finished it. Every last word and sentence was read closely. (Or at least passed over with my eyes.) Every endless conversation while walking. Every mind-numbing 40-word sentence referencing an entire lineage of Elves. Every God damn word.
I used to think that Lord of the Rings was my favorite book. It was one of the first “Adult books” I read. Fuck, I was proud to have finished that behemoth. I still am. I’ve since tried to read Lord of the Rings again, but to no avail. I can’t stomach it anymore—I know there are better things to read. Tolkien created an amazing world. But his narrative was not exactly well-crafted or entirely enjoyable to read. It had its moments, but…meh. There many books shorter than 1,000 pages that have moments.
And then, finally, there are the readers of literary fiction. These are the English majors and the people who use Goodreads. These are the people who enjoy books like Moby Dick or Great Expectations or Anna Karenina. These are the people who roll their eyes when you tell them that your favorite books are about werewolves or vampires or robots. (These are the people who are most likely to look down on others for their reading tastes.)
People who claim literary fiction as their favorite books fall into one of two categories: 1. someone who actually likes to read this stuff. (Like me!) 2. Someone who says this because they think it’s a smart answer/they haven’t read anything since AP English. Either way, bravo for stomaching that shit. God knows I couldn’t when I was in school.
When I was in high school I was a notoriously bad reader for my English classes. (I was busy with my leisure reading.) Of the things I did read, most of it I didn’t like. Huckleberry Finn was a fucking turd. Of Mice and Men was worse. The Old Man and the Sea was pretentious and unbearable. Lord of the Flies was boring. Anthem was short—which I liked—but it got a little crazy toward the end.
I was in IB English in high school, and the books we read were varied and from different parts of the World. A lot of them sucked balls. The only books I remember liking in Junior and Senior years of high school were Light in August by William Faulkner and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Everything else was pretty shitty. Especially The Lovely Bones—I fucking hated that book for some reason.
I think one of the reasons I ask people their favorite books is because I know that, for me, the answer changes every few months. My experience has been that—rather than a favorite book being something that is established once and forever—my perception of books is somewhat linked to how they relate to the other books I have read. Once I come across a truly fantastic book, it makes me perceive the other books I have read differently.
I really enjoy using the Goodreads application to keep track of what I want to read next. It has a great tool where you can give ratings to books between one and five stars. The average is listed on the side. And the average score you give is listed in your profile. (Mine used to be something like a 4.3, but now it’s more in the realm of a 3.8.) Whenever I read something truly terrific—like The World According to Garp or Nora Webster—I go back and actually change ratings from five stars to four stars. The bar has been raised.
Another reason I love Goodreads is because it has made it so easy to find new books. Half of the fun (for me) is tracking down the right books to read. This actually is partly why my average rating—and perhaps everyone on Goodreads—is so high. I tend to read only books that come with high praise, so I suppose I’m only reading “good books” and that might be why I have so many four stars and five stars. (Not complaining.)
But it also makes it so that I find lots of new favorite books and authors. Which is great because, hey, new favorite authors and new favorite books! But it’s also a downer because when this happens a lot—the way it does with me—you tell somebody that you’ve found a new favorite writer and your proclamation of joy and excitement is met with incredulity.
“Another favorite book? Jesus fuck, Juan. Make up your mind!”
It’s like I’m the little boy who cried wolf, but with books.
I promise I’m not indecisive! I just love reading new stuff. (But I might also be a little indecisive.)
I wrote this list of 10 favorite books back in March 2014. Then, two months later, I updated it thanks to a job application with a new list of 5 favorite books. This new list had new criteria and had lots of different choices. (Although The World According to Garp and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas made the cut for the second time.)
Not to brag or anything, but I have read a fuck ton this past year. Like—I have read FAR AND AWAY more books in the year 2014 than I have any other year of my life. I decided before January of 2014 that I would become serious about my writing. And the first step to becoming a great writer is to become a great reader. So every day I dedicate at least three hours to consuming books, whether through reading or audiobook. This is no longer a leisurely activity for me. (Even if it feels like it at times.) Reading is a crucial part of my craft.
And so, now that 2014 is coming to a close, I figured it would be fitting to make a list of the best books I read. Note: not all of the books in this list were published in 2014. I simply read them in 2014.
- Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
- The World According to Garp by John Irving
- Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard
- The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
- A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
- City of Thieves by David Benioff
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
These books have almost nothing in common. But they are all amazing. Garp won the National Book award in 1980. A Good Scent won the Pulitzer in 1993. Middlesex won the Pulitzer in 2003. City of Thieves was inspiration for the awesome video game The Last of Us. Child of God was written by Cormac Fucking McCarthy. ‘Nuff said.
Those 10 books all blew me away this past year. If you’ve been around me at all in the past year, you’ve probably heard me talk about at least one of these books. I’ve probably recommended at least one to you. I’m sorry; I can’t help myself. I find something great and my first thought is to share it with someone—anyone who might appreciate it. (Who doesn’t like good stories?)
Fair warning: I will continue discovering new favorite books. And I will also continue recommending them to people.
Now you’ve been warned in case it ever happens to you. For the record, I don’t give a flying fuck what your favorite book is. It could be Green Eggs and Ham for all I care. (Although I’d prefer if it wasn’t Atlas Shruged.) If you’re reading, I would never look down on you for reading. (Unless you are reading Atlas Shruged. And then I’m only looking down if you actually agree with it.)
Now get back to reading! And the next time someone asks you “What’s your favorite book?” don’t tell them to go fuck themselves. That’s just rude.