The other evening I was annoying myself by trying to think up answers to the question ‘what is your favorite book?’ It’s a silly question, because books are good for so many different things – one (generally) wants different things from a cookbook and a poetry chapbook; and it’s a different question from ‘what do you like to read?’, which usually reduces one to puffing recent releases, listing obscure out-of-print titles, or making up genres with whimsical names (especially if the name raises more questions than it answers). In teasing myself with the question I considered names and titles, weighing them, and it was interesting to see which books withstood this rapid, unthoughtful measure:
- Herodotus, yes
- The Iliad, no
- Kenkō, yes
- The Odyssey, maybe?
- Tristram Shandy, yes
- Villette, no
- Proust, no
- Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, yes
As I didn’t bother applying the question to books I was not, in some measure, fond of, the answers that sprang to mind (with the oracularity of any omphalos, from the gut) at times surprised. My taste runs more to the picaresque than I would have thought, though I suppose the fondness for digression doesn’t surprise.
It is curious, of course, that just because one likes a book, it doesn’t mean it’s good – and, conversely, just because a book is good, one doesn’t necessarily have to like it. It is not a moral fault to dislike a book, not least because disliking a book does not necessitate failing to appreciate it. It is also not a moral fault to a like a book, though I suppose being ashamed of liking something is a different matter entirely and calls for more introspection.