That’s one of my least favorite questions.
How does one answer that? Only with a series of questions. What, today? In which genre? At what point in my life? For which mood?
On any given day, at any given mood of my life, the answer might be totally different.
I spent a summer in my teens reading every science fiction book in the few shelves the local library had set aside for the genre. Isacc Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey – all treasured names from my past reading habits.
When I was much younger, I devoured Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, published in 1977. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about life on Earth after a comet hits. Sounds trite now, with all of the similiar stories and movies, but back then it was a breath taking read, nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1978. I re-read it recently and, while it didn’t have the same punch it had back then, I loved it.
Neville Shute’s On the Beach haunts me still. I grew up under the shadow of the threat of nuclear annhilation, a time when we thought we might stand a chance at surviving a nuclear bomb if we hid under our desks. On the Beach crushed those naive beliefs for me and turned me into something of an anti-nuclear crusader for a time.
Margaret Laurence’s Stone Angel kept me in tears for a long time, more so now as my own parents age and my mother fades under the fist of Alzheimer’s. In a similar vein, Larry’s Party by Carol Shields had me literally crying in the aisles of a bookstore while my young daughter watched in confusion, unable to understand how a fictional story could reduce her mother to a sobbing mess.
These days I bury myself in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve read every book in the series twice and will probably go back for a third read before the fourth season of Game of Thrones airs. It might not be literature, but it’s a damn good story. For the same reason – a damn good story – I enjoy countless other writers. Lucy Maud Montgomery, Steve Martini, Kate Mosse, Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Brad Meltzer, Tana French, Suzanne Collins, C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman, Cormac McCarthy, Dan Brown, Markus Zusak, Max Brooks, William Landay, Adam Mitzner, Patricia Highsmith …
What’s my favorite book? It would be a sad thing indeed if I could answer that question with a single title.