October 15, 2014

BYRNE | On Having a Favorite Book

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My dog, if he were a person, would be the type of person who constantly laughs really loudly in a group situation so that everyone will look at him. He would have asthma, but refuse to go to the doctor because it “only hurts when he breathes.” He would love hiking but hate “exercising.” He would hang up posters of the Rolling Stones on his wall and pretend not to know new bands. Honestly though, I would probably still love him if I knew him as a human, because he would be exactly the type of boisterous, just-rude-enough-to-still-be-cute person I could grow to love.

My sister starts every conversation with, “what’s your favorite movie?” Or at least most of them. The others she starts with a similar question — like favorite book — but movies are her thing, so she judges people deeply based on their movie preference. It is deceptively difficult to answer these types of questions, these declarations of preference for this or that. In second grade, I knew exactly what my favorite food was, my favorite toy, my best friend. Between then and now, I’ve lost some of that certainty, but my sister hasn’t. She forges ahead, forcing people to make decisions, because she is the type of person that will not take no for an answer, will not take discomfort for an excuse and does not care how “awkward” other people think she is. She is always ready with her favorites, always waiting to answer, but never asked. It is her litmus test for the world — if someone will care about her answers instead of focusing on their own — and it is hardly ever passed.

Every year for my birthday, my dad buys me the number of books correspondent to the years I’ve been alive. I have two giant bookshelves in my room, full of these novels marking my years of life. I have books in piles on the floor, too many to fit on the shelves. I learned to read when I was two, and I’ve read hundreds, maybe even thousands of books since. I’ve spent way too large a portion of my life reading to be considered a healthy, normal person. But when people ask me, “What is your favorite book?” I freeze. Of course, this is not unusual for me, that I would awkwardly not know what to say when someone asks me a question. This is for a different reason: It’s because I know, like my sister, that they are asking to gain an insight into who I am — whether I’m a crazy lunatic (never trust anyone whose favorite book is American Psycho) or a romantic (likewise with anything by Nicholas Sparks).

There are some types of people who you know you’ll just get along with. For example, I am inherently likely to befriend anyone whose favorite band is the Beatles, or who will admit that they still like High School Musical. But then there are other types of people, people who laugh too loudly to draw attention to themselves, who probably haven’t read a book in the past two years, who hate exercise. These people, more often than not, turn out to be those who I love the most. So, when someone asks me what my favorite book is, I cannot answer. I am afraid they will put me into a box, either potential friend or out of the running, based on one answer to one simple question.

I freak out when asked about my favorites because I can’t take the pressure. So, to everyone who has asked, is wondering or will ask about my favorite book, I will tell you. I hate to admit it, and I really don’t want to say this one first, but I read it and I really liked it: The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t want to be just a typical girl, so look, I also like scary, manly books: Into Thin Air. Don’t think I only read sensationalized, media-driven true-life accounts, though! I also like deep, thoughtful, literary books: Great Expectations. But don’t think I only read books because they are capital-G Great, so I also like books for common people, and I’ve recently read a few good ones: Gone Girl. But are you asking about favorite book right now in this moment or favorite book of all time? Because quite honestly, I can’t ever say that my favorite book of all time is anything other than Harry Potter.

As you can imagine, this spiel doesn’t usually go exceedingly well for me, especially the Harry Potter part. In fact, it usually has the opposite of the intended effect: Instead of preventing the asker from prematurely judging me, he or she judges me instantly based on the fact that I have approximately 1,000 favorite books and am talking their ear off at a party where they probably just wanted to drink beer and yell along to pop songs. To which I say, you asked.