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?
I don’t have a favorite book, just like I don’t have a favorite movie — or rather, my favorites change around a lot, but I can usually give you a favorite story / book by whatever author I am into for the short or long term (ie, Pratchett — “Small Gods”; “The Musgrave Ritual” in the Sherlock Holmes stories; “Anna Karenina” for Tolstoy, etc). My main desire in a book seems to be either broody and deep or fun. I struggle to make my way through slower stories. I used to be better at that, but the older I get, the shorter my attention span.
Honestly, that’s part of what inspired me to write this post–I was stressing about not being able to pick A FAVORITE, and then I remembered you saying you don’t have a single favorite, either.
I definitely need to read Small Gods. Maybe after I finish Monstrous Regiment. 😉
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People ask me what my favorite book is, and I just stare at them with a blank mind and a similarly blank expression on my face. To make it easier in future, I’m just gonna say, “Small Gods.”
I almost sent you that book, but a) I couldn’t remember if you’d read it yet and b) I felt you needed cross-dressing girls in the Disworld military first. 😉
That’s a good plan. Because Small Gods is ONE of your favorite books, and it represents you pretty well. 😉 I feel like, if I needed a single book for an on-the-spot answer, I’d say Fangirl, or The Raven Boys.
Your instincts were absolutely correct, I DID need cross-dressing girls in the Discworld military, first. 😉
A lot of people might be offended by Small Gods, because it’s his satire on organized religions large and small, but I found it funny and his questions about theology ‘fair.’ Plus, it’s about a monk toting around an angry tiny turtle god that used to be enormous and now has issues, so… what’s not to love?
I was scrolling through Pratchett books on Amazon going “I dunno what she’s read…” and saw that one and thought, “Yup. That’s the one.” 😉
I mean, it doesn’t sound like anything much different than I already got, by reading Good Omens … I doubt I would be offended, lol. A tiny angry turtle god??? YAS PLEASE.
You know me well, my friend. 😉
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THERE ARE MANY EXCELLENT BOOKS ON THIS LIST. Chaim Potok! Willa Cather! TERRY PRATCHETT. You have excellent taste, my dude. Other than those, my list of favorite writers (NO I CAN’T NARROW IT DOWN TO BOOKS THERE’S JUST TOO MUCH TO APPRECIATE) would have to include Anne Rice, E.L. Konigsburg, and J.R.R. Tolkien. (Yes, I know, I did really just come onto this blog and say that, please don’t kill me lol.)
THANK YOU, MY DUDE. I’m glad to know our tastes coincide!!
Oh, don’t worry!!! I have no problem with my friends enjoying Tolkien–and I can see why, there’s much to enjoy about him–his stories just don’t vibe with me, personally. 😉 My only issue is when folks come @me and say “IF YOU DON’T LOVE TOLKIEN THE WAY I LOVE TOLKIEN you’re not a True Fantasy Lover.” Mmm, nope.
YOUR WORLD WAR II STORIEEEEEES. THE BOOK THIEEFFFFF. *flailing and indiscernible dying whale noises* that book stole my heart and is still running away with it! That book is also why I continued pursuing German as a second language. LIESEL AND RUDY MY BABIES. Ahhhh I know I’m always ranting about this book, but OH man it’s so good to not rant about.
And also – PERSUASION! Jane Austen’s lesser-known treasure…honestly, it’s right up there with Pride and Prejudice for me. Wentworth’s letter at the end just CRUSHED me and I love him forever. It’s such a good book, and I loved that the protagonist wasn’t young for once…she was older, mature, and past the “prime” marrying age. I love Anne; she’s one of my favorite Austenian heroines.
ALSO! I wanted to tell you that I nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award! If you can’t participate, then it’s totally fine, but I thought maybe you’d enjoy that. You can check out all the rules on my blog if you’d like. I just posted it.
Such a fun post this was! I love your blog 😉
The Book Thief is absolutely stunning and it Killed Me. I still think about it allllllllllllllll the time, even though I read it years ago. The mark of a true classic. Oooh, I love that it inspired you to study German!! I studied German in college, too, and it was one of my favorite subjects.
Wentworth’s letter is just … *sssssobs* MY EMOTIONS, MY EMOTIONS!!! And Anne is definitely my favorite Austen heroine, too.
Oh! Thanks!!! I’ve been wishing for a while I could do a “tag” post–thank you so much!
*blushes* You’re the best! ❤
I feel your inability to choose one favorite SO MUCH. When people ask for my favorite movie/character/book/song/TV show, I always draw a blank. There are just too many–and they’ve all had a profound impact on me in some way! Separating them according to genre is such a brilliant idea.
I spotted a few of my favorites among yours! To Kill a Mockingbird, Persuasion, The Book Thief, All the Light We Cannot See (THAT BOOK, OH MY GOSH), and The Chronicles of Narnia. And I think I said on another post that you’ve gotten me interested in Fangirl–but also can I just say how much I would really like to read some Maggie Stiefvater? I’ve heard only good things about her books, and I love what you said about “blend[ing] the deliciously ethereal with the deliciously earthy.” THAT IS MY JAM. And that is also the kind of thing I want to write.
Right??? There are so many good ones, and I can’t just leave them out!!
Okay, but Y E S. I think you would adore Maggie Stiefvater, especially if you really like fantasy that feels grounded in the real world. Because she EXCELS at it. The Raven Cycle is my favorite because it’s about this gang of teens in modern-day, rural Virginia, searching out the hidden magical secrets of their little mountain town. And getting mixed up in ancient Celtic legends and such. ‘Tis good. But All the Crooked Saints (which is about strange miracles in 1960s Colorado) and The Scorpio Races (which is about magic sea horses on a little Irish island) are every bit as amazing, and I highly recommend them too.
In case you can’t tell–I got my inspiration for Water Horse from The Scorpio Races. 😉
I love how you categorized all of these and explained how your tastes are so unified for each genre! (Idk if I explained that correctly.) Really cool post idea. ❤
No, you did!! And thank you! ❤ Yeah, I was actually a little surprised to see how strong the patterns were, for each genre.
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I’ve never been able to pick A favorite. I have favorites. Books, movies, etc. I’d like something less if I was forced to name it as favorite. And at this point even those fluctuate depending on my mood or whatever.
I understood fantasy to be high (totally in its own world) or low (a fantasy world within our world or beside our world). Magical realism is relatively new term, to me especially, and it feels different. I was trying to look a see definitions but it looks a bit fluid, like some say magical realism is totally different from fantasy, some say it is a subgenre of low fantasy. I’m now confused about low fantasy period after looking on wikipedia. I thought HP and Narnia were low fantasy, but apparently Narnia is high fantasy and HP could be considered so? I make a distinction because I think I prefer whatever those two are. I love high fantasy and all the complicatedness of the Tolkien’s world in theory, but Narnia and HP have a homey-ness and a contrast that I just adore (I’d place Faerie Rebels in this camp). I distinguish magical realism as something different. It’s less epic, just a taste of magic (like Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic and The Key to Extraordinary, highly recommend). But it can be jarring to me when I think I’m reading a normal book and suddenly elements of magic appear.
I have few WWII historical fiction that I consider good and respectful. I’m wary of historical fiction, and particularly WWII. I think it can be inaccurate and flippant or just disrespectful. Code Name Verity comes to mind. The heroine is inhumanely, impossibly good despite deprivation at all levels. and I thought it disrespected actual heroes and heroines and when my sister pointed it out, actual victims as well. I’ve had WWII classes, but the Stalinism one (and the part of Blood Lands I read before deciding to stop depressing myself, still wonder if I could over the course of my life, reading bit by bit manage to finish that) showed me WWII in a seriousness and just, its hard to explain. Textbooks and numbers and percentages just can’t show the gravity. Rosemary Sutcliff is my favorite in historical fiction. They are so understated intensity (another of my go to’s, I don’t like too obvious, which is I guess part of the reason forr my fantasy taste).
And good British mysteries and romantic suspense. Why, for I don’t love scary things usually (hate many in fact), I find mysteries so relaxing (I have been scared by some of my favorite authors), I have no idea.
I realized also that while I love romance in novels, I don’t think I actually like the genre romance, I don’t know that I’ve read many and am not crazy to do so. I don’t like one-dimensional. Take Harry Potter, I think the HP overrarching plots are stereotyped and weak, but that is not really the only reason I’m reading I’m not even always interested in a definite plot exactly. But HP has got my perfect mix of magic and ordinary life, friendship, humor, and romance. That kind of thing is my go-to. I always love my mysteries better when they also have romance too. And humor is a must, a book (usually) without humor or the connected self-awareness is like food without salt.
I like a not too complicated plot with many life elements with beautiful prose that is moderately paced, I guess to sum it up. I don’t always (usually) care for a crash bang, twist turn, melodrama type book but I don’t care for overly self-indulgent, self-reflective kind of books either.
Oooh! A long comment!! *is pleased*
Haha. Yeppppp. I remember looking up low fantasy and magical realism, once it first dawned on me that “oh, not all fantasy stories are like Tolkien!!” and being VERY confused by the conflicting definitions. I’ve decided to just use the term magical realism to describe the kind I like, rather than low fantasy, because ‘low,’ to me, sounds … derogatory, as if it was made up by somebody who thought high fantasy was The Best Thing Ever. 😉 Of course, I can totally understand how you could like the term low fantasy, because maybe it has cozy or homey connotations, and that’s fun, too.
Narnia and Harry Potter are interesting, because they have this extra “portal fantasy” dimension: both times, it’s about accessing a magical world that is “other,” set apart, THROUGH a portal of some kind in our regular world. I adore Narnia. I really like the idea of Harry Potter, and I looooooooooved the movies, but couldn’t get past the fourth book, for some reason.
I’ve heard of Natalie Lloyd! I should try her stuff!
I tried reading Code Name Verity, but could never get into it. I skipped to the end to find out what happened, and it still didn’t grip me. I agree that WWII is a time period that’s very difficult to write about respectfully, with the appropriate gravity: but I think there are a few authors who can, and have. And you’re right–textbooks and statistics can never fully convey the human dimension of the tragedy. Which is why we need stories about it; provided they are well done …
Lol. I’m the same way. Hate scary TV shows and movies, but I LOVE me a good, twisty, British-style mystery.
Good thoughts! I enjoy hearing about your tastes and your favorites!
I read so much historical fiction, I don’t know if I could make any list with more than that and women’s fiction books.
That’s fair! You could just have a super long list, “My favorite historical fiction books …” 😉
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I need to read so many of these! We have very similar fantasy taste, but you knew that 😉
I adore Fangirl, I’m making my sister read it right now. She’s loving it!
We do, we do! 😉 psssst, Maggie, pls write another book …
FANGIRL. YES. That’s the best feeling 😀 😀
The Cold Stares are real. Many years ago, I used to say Great Expectations was my favorite book (because it was easier to just have an answer and I thought, hey, it’s the one book in the world that’s made me cry twice, maybe it IS my favorite – which is a strange metric, really, considering the other two books in the world that have made me cry, Little Women and Kim, are…wonderful books that I love and all, but I wouldn’t consider them FAVORITE favorites?), but the Cold Stares got so I couldn’t take it anymore.
This post made my analytical side weirdly happy. Thinking through one’s preferences like this is just FUN.
Also, I love what you said about fantasy! I happen to really love high epic fantasy, being transported to another world and all, AS WELL AS Maggie Stiefvater-ish fantasy, but Maggie Stiefvater-ish fantasy where it grounds the unnatural in the natural, as you say, is AMAZING. Actually, it’s funny A Darker Shade of Magic is on your list – I think of that as more “escaping to another world” fantasy. The only part of that book I really liked was the very beginning, in Grey London – and I LOVED that. Maybe I shall have to write a story about a magical traveler in our historical world sometime. I love that aesthetic.
Oh, and an author I personally love is N. D. Wilson, because he kind of takes epic quests and fights against evil and all that and…sticks it into our modern world and makes you believe it. The Order of Brendan is not in the least improbable in my head – I fully believe the Ashtown Burials are sitting there in middle-of-nowhere, Wisconsin – and I love that. It is adding magic to our ordinary world with a vengeance.
I love Persuasion!! That’s my favorite Jane Austen. Not a lot of people have even read that one! ❤ (And I love how The Man Who Was Thursday doesn't fit into your analysis AT ALL. It's so Chesterton to defy categorization in every respect. :P)
I don't know what I think about survival sagas, precisely. I haven't read a lot of them. And I like a good bit of humor in my stories, in general, and they can be a bit grim for me. But I LIKE what you said about them. It makes me want to like them, haha. And I feel like I've read good ones before, I just can't remember what they are. I think personally my favorite kind of historical fiction is adventure fiction. Eagle of the Ninth, Robert Louis Stevenson, that kind of thing. The kind of books where characters grow (or implode) and find out the kinds of things about themselves and human nature that would only ever come out under duress, but also without ever getting too terribly introspective about it.
The Cold Stares are real, indeed. *shakes head solemnly* Oooh, Kim! By Kipling? Loooove that book!
So glad you enjoyed this!! It was fun to try to categorize everything!
Ahhhhh yes. A Darker Shade of Magic is (imo) a super well-done portal fantasy, but unlike (say) Narnia, they KEEP going back and forth between the “real world” portion and the “other world” portion throughout the first book, and I greatly enjoy that sense of connection. Also, I just love Lila Bard. 😉 Wow, I should try N.D. Wilson!! That sounds awesome!
CHESTERTON DEFIES CATEGORIZATION. YUP, YUP, YUP. 😉
Adventure sagas are delightful! Stories that have depth, but aren’t overly introspective or overly grim, and are mostly focused on a fast-paced, fun journey. And it turns out, I like to write those stories and seem to be good at it. 😉 I enjoy reading them, too, but there’s something about my reader’s brain that’s also drawn to really serious, life-or-death stories exploring The Point of Human Existence and Whether There is Goodness on the Earth.
Weird, huh? xD
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Love this post idea! I have hesitantly decided that I’m pretty sure I know my favorite novel. But if someone were to ask my favorite movie? You’ve still got me stumped. I kiiiiiind of know — possible — ones in the top three, but idk.
All the his-fic ones here! Be still, my heart. I love so many of them. 😀
Right!!! And that’s okay! It’s okay to know your favorite, and it’s okay to NOT have a single favorite, either. Whether books or films.
Yussssssssssssssssssss all the hist-fic 😀 I’ve realized lately I may love fantasy just as much–like, hist-fic isn’t necessarily my sole favorite genre any more–but I STILL LOVE HISTORICAL FICTION AND THESE ARE MY BABIES.