A little outburst about favourite books and authors

As far as books are concerned I don’t do favourites. I couldn’t tell you about my favourite book and I don’t have a favourite author. The very concept of ‘favourite’ makes me churn. I risk being thought pedantic, again, but read my 5 reasons about why I dislike the idea so much and see if you agree.

171 heart.svg

  1. The idea of favourites is more appropriately applied to colours or animals or even numbers when you are six years old and trying to understand the vast and various world in which you find yourself.
  2. A favourite is claimed as if it were a personal whim – almost random and certainly something to be proud of. It’s to do with making a statement about one-self, not about the qualities of the books/authors. ‘I don’t know why, but I just love anything by John Smith.’ You’ve heard that kind of thing?
  3. To have a favourite book or author is to approach it with a lack of discernment, judgement and it values sameness above all. What does one expect from a favourite except the same again? As a child I read every Enid Blyton book going. Judith Lovell was ill and had left her entire collection in our dorm while she recovered in Dar es Salaam. We devoured them until we began to realise they were so much the same that they bored us. Formulaic was not a word we used at the time, but that’s what we thought of them. We invented a workshop where Enid Blyton gave the ideas to elves and they concocted books to her recipes. And then we gave up reading Enid Blyton and moved on to Malcolm Saville. That’s what you hope to get from favourites – more of the same.

    Blyton Bookshelf by Blytonite at en.wikipedia

    Blyton Bookshelf by Blytonite at en.wikipedia

  4. Having favourites is encouraged by Twitter, with its ‘favourite’ button. I expect lots of twits (as a friend calls us), use it to save the tweet for later, as I do. It’s as easy as ‘like’ on FaceBook. Which leads to difficult verbs such as ‘unfavourite’, ‘unlike’ or the dreaded (and dreadful) ‘unfriend’.
  5. 171 star.svgOn the other hand, to say ‘one of my favourites’ is okay. I don’t think I’m being inconsistent here. One of my favourite novelists is Anne Tyler, but there are so many good writers it would be silly to say she was the one above all others, especially as her many books are of variable quality. Yes really. All good, and some very good indeed. And one of my favourite books is Pride and Prejudice, another is H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and another A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman and Middlemarch by George Eliot and … One of my favourites means this is a book/author I recommend.

So, do you agree with me – fixing on favourite authors and books does not encourage bold readers?


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Filed under Books, Reading

16 Responses to A little outburst about favourite books and authors

  1. Hmmm, you had me until no. 5 because, logically speaking (though I’m ready to be corrected) isn’t one of my favourites still a favourite and therefore liable to all those negatives about favourites? Though perhaps your point here is about having ONE favourite as against several of them! Just playing with you really. I don’t mind playing the favourites game but I always do it with an awareness that it’s a game, a moving feast – today’s favourites may very well not be tomorrow’s.

    Your point 3 is an interesting one. I’m not sure that “favourite” necessarily means “same”. I have often said that one of my favourite authors is Margaret Atwood, and the reason is that you can never accuse her of being the same. Her books have varied a lot over the years – sci-fi/dystopian, general contemporary, historical fiction, and even thriller as I recollect. And yet, for some, favourite does mean the same, and this is the reason why I tend to not like series. I’ve read a story and I want to move onto something else. (Interestingly though, I enjoy tv series. Go figure, as Americans would say! What inconsistent beings we are!

    • Caroline

      I like this different view, that you can ‘favourite’ an author precisely because they can be different.
      And I take your point about tv series. Although the formulas of many (esp crime series) are evident to all.
      And I think it’s ok to be inconsistent.
      Thanks for more provoking comments! Come by again soon.

  2. Eileen

    Yay Anne Tyler. H is for Hawk, yo. What’s wrong with favourites? You are my favourite blogger!

  3. Very interesting discussion. I was trying to explain to my teenage daughter the other day why I didn’t necessarily have a favourite season, or country, or book of the Odyssey, any more than I have a favourite child (though I am often of course accused of that!). I like your idea of lots of favourites, which leaves the door open to discovering new things, suitable for different moods and different stages in life. (At this stage in my life, incidentally, I am completely with you on Anne Tyler, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Middlemarch”, and am delighted to see your reference to Malcolm Saville!)

    • Caroline

      Oh Mrs Ford! I only know one other person who has ever heard of Malcolm Saville. Great adventure stories for the young!
      And I’m thrilled that I recently won a copy of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, which i can now read – and can do that before the Bailey’s Prize winner is announced on 3rd June. Perhaps it will become on of my favourite books by Anne Tyler.

      Thanks for joining the comments.

  4. Cyprille

    ” One of my favourite novelists is Anne Tyler, but there are so many good writers it would be silly to say she was the one above all others.” See what you did there? Undermined your whole argument and you haven’t really made sense. This post feels like a peg loaded with a lot of ill fitting headgear.

    I have favourite authors, those whose work I look forward to and as an adult I am perfectly capable of understanding that this sometimes means one of their books might fail to live up to the others. I am also perfectly capable of understanding that this doesn’t mean placing them above all others because as a true book lover I am absolutely open to the possibility that every time I open a book (or even re-read a ‘favourite’) I might have to re-evaluate some of what I have read and enjoyed before. It can be a lovely and fleeting thing or it can last a lifetime. It can actually result in greater discernment, not less , contrary to what you allege.

    It is a world apart from a childish activity, a personal whim and some kind of self definition- I can say hand on heart that I have never used a book or writer to self define. I have a lot of favourite writers, even more ‘favourite’ books and the very definition itself is amorphous and constantly redefines itself according to ages and stages.

    • Caroline

      I seem to have annoyed you with my views. But I’m always pleased to hear from someone who loves reading and has strong views. Thanks for adding your comments.

  5. Terry Tyler

    Yes, I think you have a good point here! In author interviews I’m sometimes asked, who is your favourite author? What??? I can only pick one? Now, Douglas Kennedy is on my ‘authors who have written some of my favourite books’ list, but I thought two of his were so boring I didn’t finish them. I adore some of Emily Barr’s, but The First Wife had a plot more ludicrous than the most amateur ‘indie’. I could go on. And yes – if I ‘favourite’ your tweet it doesn’t mean I love it, it means that I’m saving it to look at the link later 😀

  6. Helen Ashley

    I suppose ‘favourite’ can be a sort of comfort thing with some people. You read an author you like, and you feel sure you can settle down comfortably to read something else by the same author. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this in the past but now, with far less time than I need to read all the wonderful literature that’s out there, I’m dismissing something of the concept of favourite.
    Point 3 is an interesting one. I enjoyed a number of books by one author, but I stopped, not because they were too much the same, but because I just felt he had run out of steam. The quality of writing was not up to the standard I had come to expect of him.
    Point 4: I don’t do twitter, but I get a bit tired of Amazon recommending books based on their idea of what has interested me before – so a similar thing really. One problem here, though, is that I’m sure I’ve missed out on a number of good books because I’m put off by hype. I’m beset by antipathy when a book wins a prize and therefore everyone is supposed to want to read it. How can I get over that one?
    Point 5: Yes, I think it’s ok to say ‘one of my favourites’. I certainly do this with poets: Dylan Thomas for the rich language; John Burnside for the philosophy; Seamus Heaney for compassion…….

    • Caroline

      Thanks for adding to the conversation Helen. I think I better own up to having some favourite prizes! Well, by that I mean I am always interested to see who wins the Booker, and IMPAC and Samuel Johnson Prizes often mention writers not in the public eye. First novel awards and Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction keep me going for a few weeks too.
      I can see what you mean about the poets as well. And I love to hear other peoples choices as it takes me to new writers and new poems, or reminds me of poets who I have let slip from my current readings.

      Best wishes

  7. Kathleen Bethell

    I’ve always been stumped when asked what my favorite book is — my “desert island” book. My answer changes every time I am asked what that one book might be. Often, my favorite is the one I am reading at the moment.

    • Caroline

      Hi Kathleen,
      I think it was this idea that provoked my little outburst: faced with the question what is your favourite book I can’t answer. And I am pedantuic enough to want to point out that for the Desert Island you need a book to read and reread until you are rescued, so it should be long, and rich, and varied, not one of those little jewel books that can be so tight and neat.
      Good idea to change your favourite all the time. Next time I’m asked I might start my answer with, ‘well, this week it’s …’ This week’s book might not do for the island.
      I did a post about my desert island books, by the way. Might have to revisit it.
      Thanks for adding to this discussion.

  8. Eileen

    Well, congratulations on winning a copy of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. What for?????
    I was going to leave my signed copy out for you next time you visited. I am enjoying it so much. It is my favourite book at the moment.
    Well, what have you provoked here? Interesting comments.
    I did think how cruel my aunt was when she called my sister Sheila her favourite of us three girls. It is awful to have favourite children – that’s appalling – and even worse to tell a child she is not a favourite.

  9. Caroline

    Thanks Eileen. I won the Ann Tyler book by leaving a comment on a blog. Very generous. Thanks for your plans to lend it to me. We can talk about it instead.
    Your aunt was very cruel.
    As always thanks for your comment.

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