Do you have a favorite book? I never really did. I used to think I had favorite books, but, honestly, I just relished the task of choosing a favorite. What does it mean to have a favorite book anyway? Must you have read your favorite book more than once? Does having a favorite mean that you would choose to re-read it even over the prospect of reading something new? Must every passage and line in the book speak to you in some way? For me, these are serious questions.
I have heard people proclaim that The Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby is their favorite book. I have read both and liked them both in general. However, I can’t say that every single section had me at the edge of my seat. There are very many parts in both in which I find myself counting down the pages to get to the next chapter. Surely, this sort of behavior cannot signal that the book is one’s favorite, right?
Many Victorian-era masterpieces contain great chunks of tedium. For example, take this passage from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina:
Within three months a report was presented. The condition of the native tribes was investigated in its political, administrative, economic, ethnographic, material, and religious aspects. To all these questions there were answers admirably stated, and answers admitting no shade of doubt, since they were not a product of human thought, always liable to error, but were all the product of official activity. The answers were all based on official data furnished by governors and heads of churches, and founded on the reports of district magistrates and ecclesiastical superintendents, founded in their turn on the reports of parochial overseers and parish priests; and so all of these answers were unhesitating and certain. All such questions as, for instance, of the cause of failure of crops, of the adherence of certain tribes to their ancient beliefs, etc.— questions which, but for the convenient intervention of the official machine, are not, and cannot be solved for ages— received full, unhesitating solution.
In a style pseudo-reminiscent of Tolstoy, I must— unequivocally and with great determination to uncover a pervasive yet elusive truth, underpinning the core of the above excerpt— pose the question, “what is he saying even?”
As it turns out, there is a lot of talk about agriculture and the state of the people living in the countryside in Anna Karenina, the magnum opus about life, love and all of the mushy, hard, and complicated stuff that happens as consequence. Can you love Anna Karenina if reading about the plight of the peasant and farming conditions make your eyes glaze over? Without satisfying answers to these questions, it is with great hesitation that I suggest in this post that I may have a favorite book(s)….
Have you seen the Netflix series “You”? You know the one about Joe Goldberg, the New York City bookstore guy, who stalks the college student, Guinevere Beck, and locks up people in his cage? The show is based on the book with the same name, written by Caroline Kepnes. I saw the show like many of you did in 2018 and then decided to listen to the audiobook. I found a lot of differences between the show and the book (for example, Paco, the neighbor kid with an abusive guardian, in the show is not a character in the book) but liked it all the same. In fact, I decided to read the sequel, Hidden Bodies, which is far superior to the second Netflix season.
I, naturally, binged the first season of the TV series and because I do not like when things end, decided to start again from episode one when I finished. Because there was a long gap between the end of the first Netflix season and the second one, I decided to listen to the two audiobooks again. Then, I watched the second Netflix season of “You” and read the two audiobooks a third time. And, as I began to write this post, I was in the middle of reading the two audiobooks for a fourth time (aaand believe it or not, but by the time I finished writing this post, I completed both books for the fifth time!!). I do not think I have ever read any single book five (5, cinco, funf, пять, 五!) times let alone a book and its sequel. Must You by Caroline Kepnes be my favorite book?
I’m so conflicted by this thought! But first, I must say that it is fitting that a book about obsession has turned into my obsession. However, for all that I love about the books, there is also so much that I do not enjoy. The language is crass, some scenes are straight porn, and situations can be cringeworthy. If I find myself listening to the audiobook when I am about to eat, I switch to something less gag worthy, because I cannot bear to hear the phrases “sopping wet,” “mug of p***,” and “d*** sucked” when I’m trying to enjoy a sardine salad.
I love the books, but I am simultaneously so revolted by some scenes that I skip over them entirely. Can I detest to the core of my being parts of my “favorite” book? Is this allowed?
For me, Dear Reader, I just don’t know! Perhaps, I am still on the quest for my “favorite” book. Until then, I will content myself by trading in love for obsession and continue to be simultaneously enthralled and appalled by the addictive, cringeworthy chronicles that is You.
P.S. As I was searching for a picture for this post, I learned that book three of the “You” series is coming out in April 2021! Dreams really do come true 🙂