I have a confession to make.
*glances around furtively* *whispers*
I don’t have a favorite book.
I don’t!!! I tried and tried for years to single out a favorite book, and I just can’t do it. I can’t even break out a “top-favorite-BUT-here-are-my-other-second-favorites-running-close-behind” list. Any time I single out a top, supreme favorite, I feel the Cold Stares of my other million favorite stories raising goosebumps on the back of my neck …
… and, I cave.
Like a house of cards.
But pondering this failure (heh), I realized something. Whenever I think of favorite books, I find myself naturally categorizing favorites by genre, like, “here’s a group of my favorite classics, here’s a group of my favorite fantasy novels,” etc. Probably because my tastes differ pretty wildly in each genre. Stuff that works for me in terms of contemporary or historical fiction, might NOT work for me in the realm of classics, and vice versa.
Below, you can find 5 to 7 of my top favorite books in each category, as well as my certified Musings™ re: the patterns they display. What seems to make me like a classic? What about a contemporary? And so on.
- Shadows on the Rock, Willa Cather
- The Chosen, Chaim Potok
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
- Persuasion, Jane Austen
- To Tame a Land, Louis L’Amour
- The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
- Bread Givers, Anzia Yezierska
Patterns? Slow stories. S l o w. Books where nothing much “happens” for 300 pages, yet the protagonist unfolds a rich inner life and dynamic inner growth. I mean, Persuasion totally fits that description, as does The Chosen, and everything by Willa Cather ever. Even To Tame a Land‘s gotta be one of the slowest, most contemplative Westerns on record. I also seem to have a yen for coming-of-age themes: The Chosen, Shadows on the Rock, To Kill a Mockingbird. Persuasion could kiiiiiinda be a coming of age tale? Anne Elliot is 27 years old, yet mentally, she’s not fully an ‘adult’ until the very end. Still very much living in her authority figures’ shadows … with an arc that revolves around learning to think and act for herself.
Favorite historical fiction:
- The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
- Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys
- The Shield Ring, Rosemary Sutcliff
- In My Father’s House, Ann Rinaldi
- A Distant Trumpet, Paul Horgan
- So Far From the Bamboo Grove, Yoko Kawashima Watkins
- All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
HOLY HECK, do I love me some gray, gritty, WW2 survival stories. Like I have a very specific Thing here, y’all. The Book Thief, Salt to the Sea, and All the Light We Cannot See brilliantly showcase the seamy side of civilian life during the Nazi occupation. So Far From the Bamboo Grove works with the same themes, just in 1945 Korea. The Shield Ring goes heavy on the ‘grim endurance’ motif, too, only taking us all the way back to the Viking invasion of England. I once ran into somebody who said a story where the protagonist’s main motive was “live to fight another day” would be (I quote) “boring,” and my brain just went … ????? How? HOW IS THAT BORING. Peeps, it is precisely when we strip the human spirit down to its most basic instinct, which is to live to fight another day, that we uncover profound truths and unmask profound lies. Don’t dunk on my survival sagas. Don’t you dare. *hugs them protectively*
Favorite fantasy stories:
- The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater
- EVERYTHING ELSE STIEFVATER (All the Crooked Saints, Call Down the Hawk, etc.)
- Summer of Salt, Katrina Leno
- A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
- The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett
- The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
- The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
- Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers
Two words: MAGICAL REALISM. Magical realism is my jam. Whether it’s Stiefvater or Schwab or anybody else, any book that takes the trouble to ground the supernatural in the natural–to blend the deliciously ethereal with the deliciously earthy–will have me squealing in delight, as witness … tHE ENTIRE ABOVE LIST. *expansive hand-wave* Odd as it may seem, I’m not really interested in traveling to other universes. For me, the real beauty of fantasy is envisioning magic within our own world. Even Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men, while technically set in his Discworld universe, feels like it’s set in England, with the chalk downs and the soft, woolly sheep. 1000% my aesthetic. I’m also noticing a lot of YA titles, which makes sense; I prefer modern YA fantasy to any other kind. I love that it’s so female-driven, in terms of both authors and characters. Oh, and can I put in a quick request for more cross-dressing, pistol-wielding pirate queens like A Darker Shade of Magic‘s Lila Bard?? I’d be most grateful.
Favorite contemporary / other:
- Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz
- Let Me Hear a Rhyme, Tiffany D. Jackson
- Yes No Maybe So, Becky Albertalli
- Sick Kids in Love, Hannah Moskowitz
Not all of these are strictly modern (Aristotle and Dante goes back to the 1980s), but they’re books I don’t feel quite right classifying as “historical,” so here we are. And what do they have in common? POIGNANT, ANGSTY LOVE STORIES, PLS AND THANK YOU. I’m a sucker for good, heartfelt romance, and I’m more likely to enjoy a heavily romance-centric plot in contemporary than any other genre. I also see a gaggle of whip-smart, anxious, overachieving girls and Soft Clueless Bois, so we’ve got that going for us, apparently. 😛
There you have it … my favorite books, sorted by genre!
Spot any of your own favorites?