Monday, July 27, 2009

My Favorite Book

Is it unusual to have a favorite book? I've been asking around, and I get a lot of, "Well, I don't really have a favorite book. I like A LOT of books." Or, "It depends on the day and my mood." Or, "My favorite book is [whatever I read in third grade, because it was the last book I really read]."

I definitely have a favorite book, but I'm afraid this makes me very weird. My favorite book is one of the most dreaded books in the English language, even though I just can't see why people despise this book so much. I've never really met anybody else who loved it the way I love it. Truth is, I haven't actually met many people who've read it at all.

I remember one summer ... I was 20 years old and I was home from college for the summer. I was living on my mom's couch that summer, and working with a friend of mine in his window-washing business. We set our own hours and made good money, working for ourselves. I went out bar-hopping almost every night -- it turned out this was the last summer I would ever spend in my hometown. Turned out, that was true for a lot of us, but we didn't know it then.

I'd get home late every night. Two, three, four in the morning. But instead of sleeping, I'd lay on my couch (sometimes gently spinning) and read Moby Dick. This wasn't my first time through it, but it was the first time the book really grabbed me. I can still remember individual sentences and images and the way they wound into my brain. In some very real ways, my dreams were shaped by Moby Dick on those late summer nights.

Two years later, I read it again, this time while I was living in the South Pacific, near the same stretches of ocean the Pequod plowed through. And then again, and again, and again.

Why Moby Dick? There really isn't time, but just because of everything. It has seafaring adventure, symbolism and theme of the deepest order, the best depiction of madness on paper I've ever seen, and all those glorious passages about the whale and the hunt. It's so much more than the sum of its parts. It has meaning on a level that feels almost post-linguistic, as if it operates on a cellular plane. To me, Moby Dick is near the pinnacle of artistic expression.

Moby Dick is the book I wish I could write.

What about you?


10 comments:

Erica Orloff said...

I have a favorite book. It's a book I don't THINK I could write, but you never know. The Little Prince. The first time I read it, it was almost like recognizing someone I'd been expecting my whole life, I suppose. Pammie bought me the bound anniversary edition for Christmas this year. I cried.

E

Mark Terry said...

It's possible this will change, but for quite some time I've listed "To The Hilt" by Dick Francis as my favorite book.

It's about a painter who lives off by himself in a shack in Scotland, but gets involved in all sorts of things when his stepfather has a heart attack. I'm not sure why this particular book hits me so hard, except that maybe it's about a guy who is defined by his art and comes to grips with his family and life in the way they interact. I dunno.

LurkerMonkey said...

Erica,

I love that book, too. It's amazing what he does with so few words.

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark,

That's interesting. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I've never heard of that book. Right now, I'm halfway through The Blind Assassin (an Orloffian recommendation), but maybe I'll go there next.

Melanie Avila said...

I'm one of those who can never name a favorite anything. My tastes are so broad that it's hard for me to narrow anything down. Plus, while I'll watch the same movie over and over, and listen to one song on repeat ten times, I rarely read a book a second time.

I do have several that have moved me -- most recently A Thousand Splendid Suns and Time Traveler's Wife -- but by next year I'll have a new book crush.

Jude Hardin said...

For a long time my favorite book was The Catcher in the Rye. I still like it, but I guess my attitude has changed somewhat over the years. Now I'm inclined to agree with Holden's teacher who tells him to get his act together.

My fave the past few years has been Stephen King's Bag of Bones.

Mark Terry said...

Jude,
Actually, Stephen King's Bag Of Bones is in my top 3. I relate an awful lot to the narrator.

My oldest son just read The Catcher in the Rye for AP English and he loved it. I told him--and I suspect this is very true--I read it when I was either in my late 20s or early 30s--and think I would have related differently to the book when I was 15. Interestingly, one of the essay questions Ian had to answer was: Is Holden depressed?

Uh, yeah, think so, and it's largely situational because of his brother's death. In the 1950s he runs away to New York City. In 2009 he either gets Zoloft or an Uzi and shoots up his high school. Sigh.

LurkerMonkey said...

Jude,

I loved Catcher in the Rye, but I think my experience with it was similar to yours. I think I read it at the perfect time (late teens) for me, but now, I'm just glad I'm not his parent.

Erica Orloff said...

Jon:
And . . . what do you think of Blind Assassin so far?

E

LurkerMonkey said...

Erica,

I'm about halfway through it, so my opinion at this stage is kind of like newly mixed Jell-O. It hasn't really set. Maybe I'll post on it when I'm done.