What's your favorite book?
That essential question, endlessly asked and answered, that often forms the basis for a person's assessment of your position as a reader. Are you a chick lit queen, a murder-mystery fanatic, perhaps a champion of comic books? Is your favorite amongst the loftier of classics, perhaps a Brontë, Poe or Melville? No favorite book is superior or truly representative of your personality, despite what some may have you believe, and so I find the most value not in asking what your favorite book is, but rather what it was. Who wrote the books that shaped you as a reader? From where did your love of your current favorite spring?
Now, it would not be fair for me to request this information without volunteering my own. And so I will now take you on a journey through time, starting with my first true favorite, Tikki Tikki Tembo.
Tikki Tikki Tembo (Age 4-7):
Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo is a young chinese boy with a very long name. This name is nearly the death of him after he falls in a well and his younger brother Chang is forced to recite his full name repeatedly until he is blue in the face.
I loved this book like no other as a child. Having a middle named of 9 letters and a hyphenated last name, I had felt the sting of a name longer than anyone wants to say. It marks the first conscious empathy I can remember feeling. The illustrations also had a strong impact on my color preferences at the time, best measured in the number of blue, green and golden yellow crayons I burned through.
The Neverending Story (Age 8-12):
If you haven't experienced the Neverending Story, I shan't ruin it for you. Rather, I implore you to pick up a copy and do not put it down until it has enveloped you and filled you with that sense of joy and wonder and raw curiosity that only the best of books can provide. I was handed a paperback copy with a small handwritten note of encouragement on the back cover at on the last day of 2nd grade by a teaching assistant I'd grown close to. Never before had I felt so much hope and fear and gratitude and envy for a set of characters, but Atreyu and Bastian felt so real I couldn't help myself. I still have that copy, and I can't say I've survived a Minnesota winter since without cracking it open once to adventure through the land of Fantastica.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series (Age 12-16):
I can't sum up this series, no matter how hard I try. I could write a months worth of blog posts alone about the wonderful dry humor of Arthur Dent, and a year on the beautifully inconsistent Ford Prefect. This series landed in my hands in a beautifully bound unabridged collection, another gift by a teacher who had more faith in me than I had in myself. I find myself quoting each book regularly, and it has maintained it's position on as one of the least dusty books on my shelf since the day I received it. When Douglas Adams passed I believed the series died with him, as I imagine any rational person would. Luckily Eoin Colfer swooped in to save the day by writing what may be the best post-mortem impersonation in the world of writing “And Another Thing...”, giving the series the end it always deserved and giving me one more opportunity to laugh or complain with my galactic friends.
The Secret History (Age 16-Now):
If you haven't read Josh's post about The Secret History from his 30-day Challenge, I suggest you do so. He puts it perfectly when he describes the author's prose as “haunting, near gothic”. I found a copy while I was in the northern wilderness at a trail-cutting work camp, stuffed at the bottom of a bag some former worker had abandoned in the basement of the library years before. It smelled of chewing tobacco and old pine, and to this day those scents still pull quotes from the tragically stoic Henry Winter directly to the front of my mind. I gorged myself on the book on the coldest and snowiest of days, when I was required to stay inside lest I be lost forever beneath a mound of snow, not to be found until the spring thaw carries it away. I can read it again and again, and occasionally if I am tired I will read it with my eyes closed, mentally building each scene prop by prop before placing the characters within. I'll watch them move gracefully at times and haphazardly at others, yet always hiding the sinister nature that dwells within each of them. I will gladly lend you a copy, and if you love it as much as I do, then the copy becomes yours. My favorite amongst favorites, let this be the book by which I am judged for all eternity.
And so there it is. You know the history of my favorites and with it my growth as a reader. Perhaps our favorites intersected at some point, hopefully they haven't and I've just introduced you to your next four favorites. Either way, I really feel like I should pick up my copy of the Neverending Story tonight and revisit some old friends. This has been a refreshingly fun journey. Fare thee well.