I recently read Lonesome Dove, that a friend told me long ago was her favorite book. We’ve fallen out of touch, so I don’t know if it is, still. But I’ve always found that question interesting, so long as the responder doesn’t go all geekier-than-thou and make a long list of erudite works.
If I had to pick one favorite, it would be Possession by A.S. Byatt. I’ve only read it once, but it changed my life by helping me see the profound passion I have for religion and literature that I continue to explore today. I’ve recommended it many times, as it contains so much in one grand story: mystery, history, romance, literature, poetry, science, religion. I look forward to reading it again.
So I’m going to ask you a question. Gun to the head, about to depart for a desert island. What book (not the Bible or collected works of Shakespeare, but one work) do you pick?
I’ll post answers from the comments. Unless you list more than one. Then I will mock you. Pick one. Just one. You can do it.
Edited to add:
At Flavorwire, they have lists of favorite books by 10 authors from David Foster Wallace to Karen Russell. I like those two as they’re less pretentious than the rest of them. Big surprise: Franzen’s is LONG. Wonder what he’d do if I made him pick just one?
Amy from New Century Reading says:
If you won’t let me pick more than one, then I’ll have to (slightly) circumvent by saying that this is what I would pick today. Tomorrow? Could be different.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.
Hee, I love that you love this book and I actively hated it. I think it makes our book friendship so interesting. Also, Larry McMurtry studied with Wallace Stegner.
Jennifer from Tipsy Baker says:
This is going to sound so pretentious, but Anna Karenina.
Sigh. This is one of my shelf sitters. I don’t think it’s pretentious; it seems like a blanket-y epic a la Lonesome Dove.
Kate F says:
I cannot do it.
Comfort v. challenging on a desert island. Which I could reread over and over and over. I’m not sure if these confines lead to my favorite book, though . . .
Austen or Wodehouse, Austen or Wodehouse.
Fine. Sense and Sensibility.
(But you know, Little House in the Big Woods would have a lot of useful tips in addition to being comforting).
I understand Kate’s dilemma. I think she gets a little too literal when she tries to sneak a THIRD book in under the rubric of useful. Nice try. But I think what makes some books my favorites are that they’re both comforting and challenging. Wodehouse is delightful, but not necessarily challenging. Austen, to me, is both.
Usually when asked this I would say The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, but I recently retread Once a Runner and that really struck a chord so that’s what I will go with today.
Jay! You are one of the people I’ve asked this of before, and a previous answer of yours was A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, which I then read and now love.
Patricia from O Canada, Y’all, says:
Gun to my head? Lolita by Nabokov.
Don’t give me time to think. As I am writing this I am already wavering.
I am amusing myself by picturing someone actually holding a gun to a book geek’s head and waiting for it to decide (Sense and Sensibility!), then the book geek changes its mind (Wodehouse!) causing the gunholder to lose its temper and go all Tarantino on the book geek.
Patricia, I noticed Nabokov was on a lot of the lists at Flavorwire, some of which (at least the DFW) were from the Top Ten book you link to in the comments.
My favorite is, oddly, also Possession — which I think is probably why I so enjoy your blog!
Possession works on so many levels for me; it’s a mystery, a satire, a myth, and a romance, all bound up into one epic of an adventure story. And the ending never fails to makes me cry.
She tries to sneak in a few more, but I won’t be putting up with that, except to acknowledge that Gretchen, Jennifer, Amy and I have all been talking about reading Middlemarch, so I think there’s a Middlemarch zeitgeist going on. I’m choosing it for my book group for May. And now Patricia comments she’s wanting to read it too. I wonder if there’s a general Middlemarch groundswell out there, or just in our little corner of the world.
I have been talking about books I read when young with the boys. Willy Wonka. Or… no, you said only one.
Yay! Just one!
The Outsiders by SE Hinton
I am ashamed to say I still haven’t read this.