The Perils of Favouritism

Yesterday I applied for an internship where I had to list my ten favourite books. It nearly killed me. I nearly didn’t apply. I have read hundreds of books, and I have loved most of them. Each of them has shaped me as a reader, as a person. Many of them were gifts from friends or, more recently, written by friends, which means the associated memories make me smile as much as the book does. TEN? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LIMIT MYSELF TO TEN?

I did pick ten, in the end, because that’s what the application asked for, but it was very hard. In the preamble to my list, I explained that these weren’t necessarily my Top Ten Books Of All Time. Half the list was made up of books I read before I was nine years old. Three were books I read last year. The other two were books I think of as particularly “formative”, and both of them were written by authors whose other works I read before I was nine. That was less than twenty-four hours ago, and I probably couldn’t reconstruct the list without looking at it first.

I’ve been thinking about this, the problem of favourites, for a while. I think I really began to have articulate thoughts about it when Donna Noble became a part of Doctor Who. Because I love her a lot…but I like Martha more. And possibly I love Amy more than Donna, but less than Martha. And, so help me, I cannot come up with any sort of meaningful way to list how I feel about Nancy, Reinette and Sally Sparrow. And that’s BEFORE we get to Sarah Jane.

If you’ve ever read my book blog, you know that I get VERY ENTHUSIASTIC about the books I like. There are CAPS. There are Very. Definitive. Sentence structures. There is an awful lot of flailing. I flipped out over EVERY OTHER DAY and ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, but even though those two books are remarkably similar in genre (theoretically), I can’t really compare them to each other. Which means I certainly can’t compare either of them to GLOW, which I also very much adored. And that’s just three of the books I read this year.

As a bookseller, having people tell me their favourite book is not always helpful in making suggestions. If I had to pick one for example, one book to rule them all, it would be Lord of the Rings. But if I told a bookseller this, they would probably load me up with Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, Wizard’s First Rule and, depending on the bookseller, some Pratchett or Gaiman. I’ve read some of each of those, and I like exactly none of them.

(This, for the record, is why I always ask “What kind of books does she enjoy reading?” not “What is her favourite book?” I find it gives me a better idea of what to suggest.)

I am pretty sure that this is one of the reasons I love YA as much as I do. Having raised myself (mostly) on Fantasy only to discover I didn’t love it as much as I thought I did, YA provides so much in the way of genre bending because all you need to be classed as YA is a character under age 19. After that, it’s open season, and I love it. It doesn’t exactly make picking favourites easier, but it does mean I can say “I love YA” and not get pigeonholed, as a reader AND as a writer.

Take Jackson Pearce, for example. Her “Sisters Red” is our-world Fantasy, but her new book, “Purity” (April 24!), is contemporary. That kind of genre jumping does happen in adult lit, but it’s far less common, and sometimes requires a pseudonym…even if you’re already super famous, like Nora Roberts. Unless you’re James Patterson, it’s just not practical, even if you have the ideas in your head and the ability to write them.

(I realize there’s been an onslaught of people jumping back and forth between adult and YA lately (Meyer, Picoult and, soon, Rowling), but often they stay within their own genre when they do it, so I’m not including it here.)

I think I’m starting to get a bit off topic.

What I was trying to get at is that just because you LOVE the Lord of the Rings enough to talk for HOURS about it with RANDOM STRANGERS IN AIRPORTS and maybe go on a vacation in Scotland for ten days to a haunted castle with a bunch of people you’ve never met (um…or maybe that’s just me), does not mean you’ll like “The Hobbit”, much less other books in the Fantasy section. The strength of YA is that you don’t have to pick favourites. It’s a genre without boundaries (well, mostly), and the stories in it are top notch. It’s the perfect place to experiment with what you like to read, and it’s a perfect place to stay if you like what you find.

Don’t worry about picking which Rick Riordan book is your favourite. Don’t try to choose between faeries and girls who play the cello. And most importantly, never let anyone decry your reading choices. Love them all.

Oh, and here are the ten books I ended up picking, for whatever it’s worth:

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien – Because, OBVIOUSLY.
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis – See above.
The Power of One, Bryce Courtnay – Check out my review!
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley – My life, basically.
The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, Tamora Pierce – MY SHIIIIIIIIIIIP!
A House Like a Lotus, Madeleine L’Engle – This one will probably get its own post later.
If I Stay, Gayle Foreman – MY HEART, you guys! READ THIS BOOK.
The Inquisitor’s Apprentice, Chris Moriarty – I’ve reviewed this one too.
The Rivan Codex, David Eddings – And this one, kind of.
Ash, Malinda Lo – The first fairy tale re-telling I read where I really sat up and went “OH! OH! I LOVE THIS!”

OH, SHOOT! I forgot “Poison Study”! *sighs*

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