As a bookworm, it is a fairly regular occurrence to be asked what my favorite book is. It’s hardly surprising, as humans we seek common ground with others when we converse, so the question is confirmation that the person is taking an interest, but it also shows that they are seeking out possible common ground – perhaps we like the same author or genre. However, it’s an easy question with a difficult answer. I’m not a parent, but I always think that asking me to name my favorite book is just about as fair as asking a parent to name their favorite child. I have masses of books and I always find it difficult to part with books – what if I want to revisit it in the future? How could I pick one book from all my shelves and set it above the rest?
The other way to consider the question is, what book would I want to choose if I could only read one book for the rest of my life? But even this isn’t straightforward. The popular Radio 4 program, Dessert Island Discs, asks notable people (ranging from scientists to footballers, and politicians to singers) to pick the songs that they would take if they were stranded on a desert island. At the end of the program, the subject can choose a book and a luxury item. When picking the book, they are reminded that they are allowed the complete works of Williams Shakespeare and The Bible as a given. But even then, I would struggle with what to choose. If I was going to be on the desert island for the rest of my days then I’d probably ask for a really good hymn book – I love to sing and have a good memory for tunes, so I could quite happily fill my days singing hymns and reading Shakespeare and The Bible until I died. If I got bored of the hymns then I could entertain myself by making alternate versions; after all, who doesn’t love a bit of ‘While shepherds washed their socks by night’ during a carol concert. However, if I was only to be on the desert island for a year then perhaps I’d take one of the meatier books from my reading list and be able to read it, free from the distractions of other books (I’ve been reading Anna Karenina for quite a while now, and the unabridged Les Miserables is waiting in the wings).
I definitely have a favorite series of books. I think I was about seven when I first read The Worst Witch, by Jill Murphy, and I absolutely loved it. I soon owned the rest of the series; my pocket money at the time was 50p a week, so I bought copies from charity shops, and asked for ‘The Worst Witch All At Sea’, the last one that I needed for my collection, for Christmas. When I was 12, I foolishly decided that I had outgrown Mildred Hubble and Cackle’s Academy; Harry Potter had stolen my heart and I decided to add my beloved Worst Witch books to a pile of children’s books that I was giving to my old primary school. It wasn’t long before I realised that this was a mistake – one never outgrows the Worst Witch series, and I set about scouring the shelves of local charity shops to find each book in the edition that I had owned. You can imagine my delight when Jill Murphy recently published some new Worst Witch books! The series is an absolute delight, the stories are so witty and original, the characters so believable, and the setting so magical. Add to all of this the charming illustrations by the author herself, and the books are absolute perfection. There have also been some really good TV series – the original ITV series when I was a child and a CBBC series which is currently airing in the UK (if you’ve missed any then don’t worry – it’s all on iPlayer!).
One of the books that I have read the most, and desire to keep coming back to, is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read this book because I wanted to see the film, and have a pretty strict rule about reading the book before seeing the film if a film is an adaptation of a book. It was such an honest book and the characters were so real. The character of Charlie was so well established and I felt such empathy for him as he went through various challenging episodes. The book is written as letters that Charlie is writing to an anonymous friend and the book covers a year in high school. I’d recommend it, if you haven’t already read it.
One of the best books that I have read recently was The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. I know that you aren’t meant to judge a book by its cover, but it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a book with a pretty cover and an intriguing title is more likely to grab your attention than a generic title and cover (like supermarket chick-lit: it all looks the same!). I picked up The Little Paris Bookshop for holiday reading when I went to Paris last year. It perhaps wasn’t the best thing to take away with me, it’s a slow and meandering plot as a bookseller sails the length of France on a canal boat and it’s a book that you read slowly. There is so much meat to the plot and so many profound conversations between characters that you simply cannot race through it, you have to go on the journey with the bookseller – if a friend took you for a walk you wouldn’t run ahead and leave them behind just because you wanted to reach the end, and so this book must not be rushed. I take extremely good care of my books and I hate a cracked spine or a dog-eared cover. Only two of my books show serious signs of wear and tear, and they are ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote, and ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley – both of them were my A-Level English texts, so thus carted between home and college on a daily basis. However, despite being rather obsessive about taking care of books, I do like to fold over the top of the page when I come across something profound or moving that I want to revisit. By the time I had finished The Little Paris Bookshop, there were dozens of folded over pages, and I spent a happy evening revisiting and mulling over the selected passages. Last week I visited Blackwells in Oxford, and I was thrilled to find that Nina George has written a sequel – it’s called The Little Breton Bistro, and I’m really looking forward to reading it!
I really like people, I tend to be very liberal in applying the label of ‘friend’, and I never really bother calling people merely an ‘acquaintance’. My philosophy is thus – everyone is my friend unless there is a reason for them not to be. I think it’s reasonable to apply this same philosophy to my love of books – all books are my favorites (depending on what I’m in the mood for) and there are only a few books that I have read and immediately put into the Oxfam pile because I don’t ever want to read them again, just like in life you occasionally have the misfortune of meeting somebody that you never wish to cross paths with in the future.
So there we have it – I have many favorite books; if stranded on a desert island for a prolonged period I’d just need a hymn book to stave off the insanity, and my favorite series of all time is The Worst Witch.