I’ve just started working as Web Content Editor for Suffolk Libraries, which is very exciting for me as someone who reads a lot and consequently has a great deal to say about books. When I was informed that the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) were conducting a poll of library staff and customers’ favourite book for the BBC #LovetoRead campaign, my immediate reaction was panic. How on earth could I just choose one favourite book, when I’ve read and loved so many? I’m sure I’m not alone in this dilemma, so I’ve come up with some suggestions for how you might decide upon your favourite book.
A book from your early life
This could be the first book you remember being read to you, which stuck in your mind because of the pictures or phrases - for me, that would be The Little Red Hen, with its constant refrains of ““Oh very well then, I’ll do it myself,” she said. And so she did!” It might be the first book you remember reading by yourself - I vividly recall being confused by the concept of chapters when reading Fantastic Mr. Fox, and initially trying to read it in the wrong order. Alternatively, it could be the first library book you distinctly remember borrowing, or being chosen for you - Five on a Treasure Island was the start of a real reading journey for me.
A book you read at school that opened up a whole new genre
Gone are the days when English Literature classes at school focussed wholly on Shakespeare and nothing younger than 100 years old (which some people love, but others don’t) - in more recent years, teachers have taken the opportunity to introduce their pupils to a whole variety of genres. My English Literature course introduced me to the post-colonial genre, giving me tons of new options at a time when I was moving from the Young Adult to Adult Fiction sections. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Angela Levy’s Small Island were my way in, and even though we studied them to death for our coursework and exams, they remain among my favourite books.
A classic novel
But perhaps you did like studying Shakespeare and the classics at school. You might also argue that if an old book is still popular today, it must provide a timeless story and truths universally acknowledged. Jane Austen’s Persuasion made a big impression on me as a teenager as I could relate to the main character, Anne. Charles Dickens’ novels continue to be relevant today, with their commentary on social issues and wit which isn’t lost on modern readers.
A book or series you always return to
Some books or series, you can just read over and over and never get bored. It’s often a relatively easy read you go straight to to as a mood boost or escape. When I was a teenager, I never had one of Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson novels far from my hand; for a long time, now, that go-to series has been Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books. You know exactly what’s going to happen, so there won’t be any nasty surprises in store as you read. If you’re not sure which book or series fits this description for you, ask yourself: what book or series would be your Mastermind specialist subject?
A book that made you go ‘wow!’ It doesn’t have to be a particularly old book, or one you’ve read loads of times - in fact, you suspect that to reread it would be to diminish its effect somehow. It’s a book where you’ve hung on to every word, admired the author’s writing skills, and carved out time to read at every opportunity, yet felt both satisfied and unsatisfied by the ending as it’s ended well, but you wanted it to go on forever and your next book can never be as good. For me, that book might be Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Behind the Scenes at the Museum or Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, or A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.
There are a whole host of ways, then, to choose your one favourite book - hopefully I’ve made it easier, rather than harder, to come to that decision. And in case you were wondering, I eventually decided upon The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend.