What is your favourite book of all time?

Do you have trouble answering this question? Most people do. My favourites have evolved so much over time that I can’t give you just one book. When I was 12, it was Lord of the Rings. At 13 it was the shitty Dragonlance novels. When I was 15, it was Neuromancer. When I was 19, it was Beautiful Losers. Etc, etc. through Beckett, Akhmatova, Coetzee, Szymborska, Heaney, Armitage, Atwood, Ishiguro, etc. etc. How do you pick one? Right now? I think the book from the last 10 years I most remember the experience of reading is is Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go for prose, and Jericho Brown’s The Tradition for poetry. But who knows what next years hold.

As a self-proclaimed avid reader, I inevitably get asked the dreaded question: “What is your favorite book?” Of course, if I’m speaking to a fellow reader who is sensitive about this question, I get in a more acceptable form: “What are your favorite books or authors?”

Either way it’s framed, it is a big question. As a novice to this conversation, I would fumble for a moment before talking about the latest book that I loved. Now, I have a more seasoned approach: I have answers prepared. My go-to book is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It’s a classic, and usually wards off further inquiries. On the off chance my conversation partner has similar tastes, I already know I have a friend. It’s a win-win, as far as I’m concerned.

The truth, however, is not that simple. Don’t get me wrong, Jane Eyre has my whole heart. It’s a story that has seen me through good times and bad, whose words simultaneously provide comfort and inspire wonder. I know it like a familiar landscape, all the fonder for the number of times my eyes have run over it. I know how it begins, the places to anticipate pain or happiness with the steadiness of knowing where the story will take me.

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