On Favourites

I don’t really approve of the idea of favourites.

I should probably qualify that statement a little – I’m talking about favourite books, favourite movies, favourite food, and other things like that.

Favourites make sense when there is a justifiable reason to choose.  For example, my “favourite” football team is Crystal Palace.  This means that I support them and only them.  They’re not so much top of the pile, as taken out of the pile completely.  The others don’t matter and never will.

But let’s look at books as an example.  When someone asks me what my favourite book is, there’s no answer.  Sure, I have enjoyed some books more than others, of course.  But when you start getting into the top fifty or so, how am I supposed to pick between them?  What criteria am I meant to be using?  And more importantly, why?  What does it achieve to have something you can call your “favourite”?  I guess it would make an easier answer to an innocent question than “I don’t do favourites, sorry”.

But even if you can come up with an answer to fob people off with, then you run the risk of them getting the wrong impression and thinking you care more about a particular thing than you do.   Telling someone your favourite book is Harry Potter* can give them a very different impression of you than if you said Pride and Prejudice or The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if in your (my) mind those books are essentially inseparable in terms of the enjoyment they gave you and the impact they had on your life.

And what about my favourite author?  Is it Agatha Christie, who I find among the most readable and enjoyable in general, but who has written quite a few duds (sorry Agatha), or is it, say, George Orwell, of whom I have only read about five books but got on very well with all of them, or is it, say, J.K. Rowling, who created one of my favourite stories but hasn’t penetrated my consciousness otherwise?

I guess what I’m saying really is that favourites are fine as long as you make them specific enough that something jumps out and you aren’t forced to choose any more.  Favourite book?  Try again.  Favourite Agatha Christie book?  Nah.  Favourite Hercule Poirot?  Keep going.  Favourite Hercule Poirot published between 1920-30?  Easy – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?


*I know Harry Potter isn’t a book, calm down.



On Books, Part One

Have I ever mentioned that I love books?  I also love reading.  Which do I prefer?  That’s a hard question to answer, probably because I don’t really understand it, so I’m not even going to try right now.  Maybe one day.

As hard as I fight against the tide, I constantly buy more books than I read.  It’s really annoying.  It doesn’t help that I have all of these reading goals, like “read a book by an author from every country in the world”, so if, for example, I see a book by a Fijian author it’s incredibly difficult not to buy, because when am I ever likely to see one of those again?  It also doesn’t help that it’s much easier (faster) to buy a book than to read one.  Finally (for now), it doesn’t help that I work in a bookshop one day a week.

I used to hang onto books after I finished them, but I really try not to any more.  The question I ask is “am I ever going to read this again?” and if the answer is “probably not”, which it usually is, I get rid of it somehow.  I started a (criminally underused) book swap box at my office and joined a book-swapping website and have had great success in passing on books.  One of the most important things to me is that everyone should be able to read whatever they want, and giving books away is my small contribution towards that goal.  It really helps my bookshelves too.

book swap
Clip Art lives on!

By the way, if you ever happen to see me reading a book that you would like to read, let me know – you can probably have it.

I called this post part one because I will certainly write more about books in the future.  Have I ever mentioned that I love books?