Michelle’s review: This week’s blog makes me want to get reading! I feel like I’m behind a few thousand novels.
If you ask me what my favorite book is, I would scoff, press my lips tightly together and question your motives and our friendship. You may not ask a book lover this question. It’s like asking a mother which one of her children is the favorite. It’s rude beyond reason. These are the thoughts thrashing like baited sharks in the ocean of my consciousness when my local librarian asked the library book club members to choose a favorite book to discuss with the group during our upcoming meeting, the first since February 2020.
I’ve been reading steadily since the fourth grade. In the past 8 years I have read 407 books, per my Goodreads app. I have read a literal shit-ton of books. Though I felt I could not possibly come up with an all-time favorite, I decided to at least find one in my top 100 I could point to and talk about. I scrolled through the most recently read titles and narrowed the list to 21 distinctly enjoyable books. I then sorted these by genre. I hate genre. It is the most unfair categorization of the written word ever devised by evil booksellers. I get the usefulness if you are looking for a book on how to crochet. Yay! You can hop on over to a section in the bookstore called Hobbies. If you are looking for a murder mystery, check out Mysteries, or the ridiculous Who Done It aisles of any damn Barnes and Noble you choose to grace. Not all literature is so easily compartmentalized.
In the library, they sort the books by Fiction (Alpha by Author/Title/Numerals) and Non-Fiction (unfathomable configuration of Subject/Author/Title/Numerals) and you can find any book by looking up its number and consulting a map of the general library layout to find exactly where that title is shelved. The library even provides a computer or two for the purpose of looking up the number. If you want to look for that fictionalized history of a famous flamenco dancer your friend suggested you read—simply type in the title. Or you can search by subject. Type “crochet” into the search box, hit the drop-down arrow and choose subject. You will receive a list of 1,017 books about crochet. Just pick the first one.
When I was nine and just starting out on my reading habit, I spent part of my school day working in the school library. It was like smoking crack before I even knew what crack was. I became addicted. That library ran on a good old-fashioned card catalog system. I would casually open a drawer and pass my hand over the tops of the cards until I felt a pull, then dip my fingers deep into that spot to randomly find my next read. I hit on a few gems using this method, but mostly fished out titles about the lifecycle of worms or the fundamentals of the French language. I frequently allowed do-overs. This little game led to my discovery of the biography. I was introduced to a host of amazing women through their life stories. I began specifically seeking them out on the school library shelves. Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman. Their lives captured my imagination and lead to a lifelong appreciation for women’s contribution to human history. Non-fiction was not as boring as I had first thought.
Even back in the fourth grade, I knew fiction defied categorization. Locating a great story couldn’t be accomplished by following an arbitrary definition of plot or character. I learned the best method for finding well-written, fascinating, page-burning stories–ask someone in the know. The school librarian became the doyenne of my youthful reading selections, a role she had always been destined to fulfill. I have been enamored of librarians and their vast knowledge of literature ever since. If you are in need of a good yarn, ask your librarian. You might get an enjoyable read or an entire list of titles from which to choose.
So, it was with great alarm, when my current librarian called upon me to provide a title and outline of a book I loved, I suffered a moment of huffiness. Wasn’t that her job? I gave myself a little time to pout and then reread the email. She did not ask for the favorite book, but a book I had loved reading. And why I loved it. That wasn’t as much of a burden–a little time, a little thinking. Plus, she stated we didn’t have to do this, just come and enjoy the selections of others. Though, once the challenge was posted, the gauntlet thrown, so to speak, I really had no choice but to get down to the business of finding one book. Just one.
I still had a list of 21 books. I loved all of these books, that’s why I picked them out of the many. Still, I wanted to sort through them to see what kind of book I might choose as worth recommending to my fellow readers. I had a hard time trying to sort my top 21 (of the last 8 years) into a cohesive system denoting style, theme or plot line. I began to create my own category of species based on why I enjoyed these particular books. Several of the titles struck me as Delightfully Charming, so I piled up Fishbowl, Ella Minnow Pea, Care of Wooden Floors and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore into this newly minted genre. I confess part of the charm of Mr. Penumbra’s was discovering inadvertently that the book cover glows in the dark.
I called my next grouping Weird Shit because it corralled all the zombie, dystopian, sci-fi, fantasy-ish books that had been able to hold my attention, into one semi-jumbled box. I considered Wool, Six Wakes, The Girl with All the Gifts, John Dies at the End, Bird Box and Oryx and Crake to be fine examples of unusual tales of stuff I could never imagine. It seems I really like unusual tales because these six titles were just a few fine examples in a stack of books that defy genre-sorting endeavors.
The rest of the books on my list fell by default into my third and last description I labeled Everything Else. These are compelling stories of humanity (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Church of Marvels) and also the two non-fiction books I sneaked onto my list (The Sixth Extinction and The Journey of Man). I purposely avoided Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations because my library book club has heard enough of my gushing praise for it. I understand the story of the making and breaking of soil does not appeal to everyone.
I have been enamored, like a love-sick adolescent, of far too many books to compose a comprehensive list. This particular roster of books does not include the classics I read throughout my childhood. It also lacks the works of my favorite humorous authors, books I have read and reread whenever I needed a laugh. Also not present are books I have cherished because I met the author and they signed their sentiments inside the front cover. My list of 21 is paltry. It is a poor representation of my reading history. I could write volumes of information about the books I have loved, cherished and over-paged. But that is not what was asked for by the librarian. So now, I must pick just one. Any single tome I could wax poetic over. That task shouldn’t be so hard.
What essence should I single out from one book that led to my loving it? It will have to be a book that left me gasping for more. That is a quality I can recommend to any reader. I am always yearning for more. More cleverly plotted tales. More superiorly researched truths. More expertly crafted sentences. The one take-away I can look forward to from this upcoming book club meeting is that every single member is going through the same process. Combing through their reading history, edging out the superiority of one character over another, dredging up the best passages and swooning over the perfect ending. I’ll be ready with my pen and notebook to record the descriptions that appeal to me. Maybe I’ll finally find a fellow member who loves zombies…and dirt.
Open the cover, look inside,
Guest Editor Michelle is an avid bibliophile. It’s not a competition, but she may be winning.