If you ask a librarian what his or her favorite book is, you’ll probably get a bemused and somewhat pitying look. At worst you’ll get a polite brush off – librarians are almost unfailingly polite – a bright smile, and a placating non-answer like “The one I’m reading now!” or “Oh, I just can’t choose.”
The former reply is rarely true. The latter – well, much more likely.
If pressed, your librarian may come up with a single title. Quite possibly, it won’t be one of their favorite books. Quite probably, he or she will give you a title just to get you onto your own journey of discovery for your favorite book(s). Because, even though your question seems innocuous, its answer is deeply, deeply personal.
This is not that librarians don’t enjoy recommending books. Oh, my goodness, yes, they do! They love it. They read widely and have a massive knowledge of fiction and non-fiction that spans many genres: graphic novels to true-life survival literature and everything in between. They will interview you to find out what you like, and make some suggestions from there. This process has a name: readers’ advisory. We’re good at it. Yeah, did I mention I’m a librarian? I am.
But to pick just one book…as the best book ever in the world, across all time…almost impossible.
Now and then, you may find someone who stands adamantly behind one title that is the end-all be-all of their existence. Maybe it was deeply formative in their life. That’s o.k., and it is kind of rare to find.
But chances are, most people will need to give you a handful of favorites.
In my home, I have a lot of full-to-capacity bookcases. It’s an occupational hazard for bibliophiles. (Quick aside here: A friendly warning to other librarians that when moving across the country, as we did recently, your spouse may get irrationally frustrated when the extremely expensive moving truck’s weight is primarily devoted to your books. But hey, he knew he wasn’t marrying a collector of feathers or pressed flowers, right?)
Anyway, one entire bookcase in my home – o.k., two really – is devoted to books I reread regularly.
These books are my favorites. They range wildly from Watership Down, to the Complete Sherlock Holmes, to the Little House on the Prairie series. The Stand, Hamlet, and The Great Brain. Death in Kenya, All Creatures Great and Small, and Where Eagles Dare.
These titles are my friends. They are books I can reread and feel like I’m where I should be. Every time I visit one again I find something different. A detail I missed. An image that gives me a new idea. Something unique to take back to my real life.
A favorite book speaks to something inside you: it resonates with your soul, it reflects a facet of your personality. These titles keep their relevance throughout changes in your life. You can read them when you are ten or forty-eight. I fully expect to read them still when I am eighty-four. My favorite books, of course, will not be the same favorite books as everyone else, because their importance to me is tied to the specific meanings they have in my life.
That’s why, when you offhandedly ask someone who loves books what their favorite book is, you are asking to see into their soul. Be mindful of this.
I read and reviewed a lot of books for you this year. I truly enjoyed all of them. (Well, except for three. Don’t read those. Really.) To pick the top five titles out of all those I’ve reviewed is a challenge, so I’m going with re-readability as my criteria. Of all those I read this year, here are the top five I would re-read. Links are to my reviews. May you continue to find many, many favorite books of your own.
Did I say top five? Oops.
Best of the Best 2017
Bird Box Josh Malerman, 2014. Almost unbearably tense. A blindfolded mother and two children journey downriver to escape – something – that will drive them mad if they see it.
Monster Hunter International Larry Correia, 2007. A warm-hearted, shoot-em’ up (there is such a thing!) with fantastic characters and a great sense of humor.
The Elementals Michael McDowell, 1981. Family secrets and powerful entities on Alabama’s Gulf coast. Exquisitely-written, slow burn, summer southern horror.
Broken Monsters Lauren Beukes, 2014. A cop story. A story about dreams and art. Pink doors in the wasteland that is Detroit. Surreal and brilliant and creepy.
Dogs of War Jonathan Maberry, 2017. Captain Joe Ledger and his team fight nanites and artificial intelligences to save the world from a tech apocalypse. Rip-roaring and well-crafted military sci-fi.
Under the Overtree James A. Moore, 2000. A small town and its folks are tormented by an old evil. Amazing sense of place and detailed character build. And of course, there’s the wonderfully infamous Mr. Crowley.
The Supernaturals David A. Golemon, A classic ghost story on steroids, complete with a tv broadcast, dream walking, psychics, and a possessed professor.