Next week PBS’ Great American Read series kicks back into gear. Along with the show, PBS has been running a poll. They want people to vote for their favorite book. The May kickoff show was interesting, and I’m happy as hell to hear people talking about books. (Hint: I’m about to refuse to pick just one.)
But, why oh why, do we have to have just one favorite? It is so hard to narrow down my choices, and I absolutely hate answering this question.
“Oh, you love to read. What’s your favorite book?”
Did they mean this week’s favorite? Or my favorite nonfiction? What about fiction? Did I have a favorite when I was a kid? Or is there any book I reread on a regular basis? Sigh. It’s a much more complicated question for me than anyone realizes.
Because, let’s be honest, I’ve been reading between 25 and 150 books each year for my entire adult life. That’s 35 years. Let’s multiply 35 by 75. It’s 2,625 books. Give or take a hundred here and there. I can’t begin to narrow it down to a handful, much less only one.
Picking a favorite book also depends on my faulty memory. Since I’m not generally a rereader, I have to drag my mind back over the thousands of books I’ve read in my lifetime.
I also question whether that book I adored at 25 would be one of my favorites if I read it today. My sensibilities have changed, as has my taste in writing. For years I’ve said my favorite book was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But lately I’ve been reading reviews decrying his misogyny. Would it still be my favorite today, given the political and feminist perspective from which I now read?
What is up with people whose favorite book is a children’s book? Is that when they stopped reading? Have they never found anything heart-stopping since Charlotte and her web? I can’t even imagine this. If you loved Charlotte, there are so many adult choices that would make you think. There’s Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Or Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. And there’s Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, plus many more. The world of book choices is infinitely wider than that little web.
I cannot be book monogamous. I just can’t.
Asking me to narrow my selection is impossible. Dear PBS: I hereby refuse. To me, the question is unnecessarily reductive when reading is about expanding horizons and minds. I will always, always choose the latter.
As for the GAR, I’m super curious to see how the voting goes. I don’t think it’s possible to agree on one book among hopefully millions of readers and voters, but I admire the concept. Go PBS for getting people to talk about books!