Judging a Book By Its Cover

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with my friend, Alyson about what a favorite book says about an individual. It has been an interesting discussion given that the reasons why someone chooses a book often say a lot about their interests and character, as well as their state of mind when they read it.

Of course, this is an over-simplification of the idea of a “favorite”; having a favorite book is an extremely personal choice and something that often is inexplicable. Of course, Alyson and I both studied English as undergraduates, so we were trained to articulate what we like and dislike about a book, which really does not factor into our overall assessment of whether it was “good” or “bad”.

The whole idea of “good” and “bad” being so subjective, it really makes is more of a personal reaction and the idea of attraction. It’s probably a bit of stretch to say that “favorites” is like physical attraction, but their something intrinsic to our idea of “favorites” that goes hand-in-hand with love and attraction. My favorite books are not the best written or greatest or anything like that and I would never feel embarrassed to mention them.

However, there is also a dangerous tendency of any ranking to choose something that you feel makes you look better, more intellectual, or more avant-garde (or what have you), rather than choosing purely based on your emotional reaction to it. It is akin to choosing a  romantic interest because they will make you look good, rather than for their own qualities.

The whole reason Alyson and I were even discussing favorites is that we had recently listed the favorite books our various boyfriends or interests have had over the years. We wondered what did it say about us? What did it say about them? For those guys who had a genuine love for a book, regardless of how bad, I understood – often these were the books of their adolescence that had spoke to them and resonated unlike anything else had before. However, when a college beau told me that his favorite book was Don DeLillo’s White Noise, I should have known this was not a good sign. In fact, it was a rather unsuccessful relationship.

As for my favorite books, I couldn’t just choose one because I like them for different reasons. The book that was my favorite book for the longest (and still is extremely) dear to my heart is Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, which I read in high school. It is about a student at a writer’s program somewhere in the Midwest who gets in this crazy adventure with his beloved professor, a writer who can’t write, during a weekend convention. It inspired me with a sense of adventure and confirmed I wanted to be a writer, whatever it took.

My other, more current favorite book is At Swim-Two Birds by Flann O’Brien. It was the book that restored my love of literature in a year when I thought I couldn’t read anymore. It is also one of the most entertaining and hysterical books I’ve ever read, although as it is vaguely surrealist, a bit difficult to get through. The story begins with a lazy Dublin college student writing a novel about a hotel owner who is writing a novel and while the hotel owner sleeps, his characters can take control of his life. Throw in some mythic Irish figures and a lot of recitations of poetry, drunk and sober, and you get a crazy book.

So what do these say about me?


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