What makes something your favorite?
For me, it is comfortable, delicious, snuggly, perfect. I want to hug it and be best friends with it and I need nothing else. A chubby cat, my Ithaca Rock Climbing Club sweatshirt, a cupcake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine, dad’s coffee, a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, or a good book will do the trick. The sweatshirt is self explainable, but I want to focus on the good book part. My version of a good book is somewhere in the realm of modern fiction: The World According To Garp, Bonfire of the Vanities, or The Art of Fielding. A piece written by an intelligent person that is not flashy or arrogant, but subtly genius, with characters that make perfect sense set in plot that is neither obvious nor contrived (Jodi Picoult, I’m looking at you).
But of course, if I indulged in favorites all the time, I’d wind up obese, covered in cat hair, laying in bed amongst the cupcake crumbs, with permanently stained teeth. You can’t live on favorites alone.
I was for awhile, reading mostly modern fiction. When I am the boss, that’s what I pick and I am totally the boss of my kindle. Since we have been traveling though, I have also taken to raiding the bookshelf wherever we are staying. This provides me with someone else’s selection of books, ones that I would not usually choose myself, and also balances out the cost of buying books. As a result of this practice, I’ve met Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and been inspired by his River Cottage cookbooks, discovered the we decided to be farmers, but have no idea what we are doing genre, and also attempted to broaden my horizons by reading Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. While Portrait of a Lady wasn’t enjoyable through and through and it was often tiresome trying to figure out what James was saying through his flowery language, it worked my brain. I learned a few things about gender roles in the 1800s and by page 400 actually found myself enjoying the story. It was not a favorite, but a really valuable activity. And it makes coming back to your favorite genre all that more enjoyable. I just picked up Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot and by the second page, knew that it is going to be a favorite. It tasted like cupcakes after a week of bran cereal, but I needed that bran cereal.
My suggestion is two fold: go read something that is good for you, then pick up something from your favorite genre. Here are a few that I’ve really enjoyed this year:
The World According to Garp, John Irving
A hilarious and heart wrenching novel. My favorite book ever.
A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain
Disclaimer: Bourdain is a total bro and this is more food porn than literature. He boozes and eats his way around the world and will make you want to do the same. I read this book with a notepad next to me: Spain To Do: San Sebastian tapas bar crawl.
Once Were Warriors, Alan Duff
An iconic New Zealand novel about a Maori family living in government housing. Ficticious, but felt very much like the struggles that my students in the Bronx faced. Interesting to see what those problems look like in another culture.
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbaugh
Set on a college campus in upstate Michigan, Chad Harbaugh’s writing is spot on. His characters became my friends and the book may as well have read itself to me.
Life, on the Line, Grant Achatz
A celeb chef memoir + cancer survival story that is the best of both worlds. Written by chef and investor, both of whom are quite competent writers.