Friday Question of the Day – What is Your Favorite Book of All Time?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Christopher Michael Poole

Since this weekend is the National Book Festival I thought I’d use this week’s question to ask about your all time favorite reads. In August we looked at some summer reader recs but today let’s go with your all time favorite(s). It’s funny how this answer can change – I remember loving reading Soldier of a Great War by Mark Helperin but when I reread it I didn’t like as much. I can however read most of Steinbeck especially Cannery Row and love it every time. So out of curiousity – when was the last time you read your all time favorite? And I guess we should split this into two categories – what is your favorite fiction and what is your favorite non-fiction read?

173 Comment

  • To kill a mockingbird. ..

  • Funny that you should mention Mark Helprin, because Winter’s Tale was one of the first titles that popped into my head. It’s just so… meaty. Fantastical, emotional, broad and deep. It might be my “if you’re stuck on a desert island with just one book” book. Though I wonder if, like you said, I would be as affected if I read it again. I haven’t.

    I can read Jane Eyre and Rebecca over and over. They take me back to a time when discovering the world through books was my greatest joy.

    • I love Winter’s Tale. We were assigned to read it junior year in high school but only myself and someone else actually read it because it’s pretty long. It was amazing. I should read it again.

    • Yes!! Jane Eyre and Rebecca are annual reads.

  • In the Heart of the Sea!

  • orderedchaos

    Damn… I can’t do it, can’t name just one. So here’s my initial, unvarnished answer:

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (read so many times I’ve lost count)
    Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal – Christopher Moore (ditto)
    Shogun – James Clavell
    WOOL – Hugh Howey
    Oryx & Crake – Margaret Atwood (she’ll be at the Bookfest on Saturday)

    The first two have a permanent place among my favorites… but you’re right, “favorites” is a malleable concept.

    • +1 Oryx & Crake, although i prefered Year of the Flood

    • I’ve never been to the book festival, but was thinking about trying to see Margaret Atwood there.
      How does it work? Do the authors do readings followed by signings? Do you have to show up early and stake out a spot?

      • It can be really confusing sometimes. If you do not want an author to sign your book, I suggest just seeing when they are reading and going to that. If you do want an author to sign your book, the lines usually begin forming an hour or more (depending on how popular the author is) before the time of the signing. The author “line numbers” are assigned and when you get there you just find the line number of your author and get in it (but be weary; check with someone on where the line for your author starts). There are plenty of volunteers to help and I’ve almost always met some super interesting people waiting in those lines.

  • A humble plea: can you say WHY it’s your favorite? Something you liked about it? I’m always on the lookout for new reading, and lists of titles don’t help. Proselytize! Convert me to your way of thinking! In the spirit of book week.

  • “Their Eyes Were Watching Good” . The framed structure reveals the story and characters like a puzzle, but never confounds like some novels that play with narrative structure. It’s taut, bluesy, lyrical, funny, non-sentimental, sexy…

    For a more modern runner up, perhaps “Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” Just wonderful writing, and an adventurous read. Don’t think I’ve every been more immersed in a read.

  • The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

    • Searching for Cacciato was also great.

      • Yeah, Going After Cacciato would have been my choice, but since someone already mentioned it, I’ll say Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

    • Tim O’Brien rules! His writing is taut, a little trippy, sometimes devastating and always very real. I would toss in “In the lake of the Woods” and “The Nuclear Age,” too, if anyone wants to read him.

      I cannot name a favorite at all, but the mention of Tim O’Brien made me think of Stewart O’Nan — similar writing styles. Try “A Prayer for the Dying.” Lovely prose, unrelenting horror.

  • Neuromancer, duh.

    • I never understood the hype around this one. Or the author, for that matter. I guess I’m not a cyberpunk or sci-fi guy.

  • Ender’s Game by Orsonn Scott Card

  • mars trilogy by kim stanley robinson

  • Childhood’s End

  • Non-fiction: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
    Fiction: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

    • Squish- you should try Above the Clouds – its the diary/stories of the Russian/Kazakh climber that was with Scott Fisher and his team – very good.
      Love Owen and John Irving!

    • Sigh… I’ve had to swear off of reading Irving books in public.

      Really loved Owen Meany, but I hate it when I end up ugly crying on the bus. Why do his books always leave me sobbing?

  • Winnie the Pooh (all four “Pooh books”) – by AA Milne, not Disney.

  • Oh man….it’s so hard to narrow it down, but if I had to choose:
    Fiction – The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
    Nonfiction – The Medical Detectives, by Berton Roueche

  • “All We Need of Hell” by Harry Crews.

  • binpetworth

    Non-fiction: The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)
    Fiction: Smilla’s Sense of Snow

    Two completely different heroines, but I relate so well to both of them.

  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers, the story of how a traumatic experience can follow someone for their entire lives and keep them from connecting with other people, but how at the same time they can relate to each other. Its beautifully worded, and dives deep into the soul.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I can probably recite half of it in my sleep at this point. Emma by Austen is a close second though.

  • The Little Prince

  • East of Eden
    A Farewell to Arms
    A Thousand Splendid Suns

    • I’m currently reading East of Eden and I’m loving it! Also +1 to A Thousand Splendid Suns and really any of Khaled Hosseini. Wish I could go to the book festival to meet him!

  • Open Secrets, by Alice Munro

  • Fiction :To Kill a Mockingbird

    Non-fiction: Childhood and Society

    Non-fiction/self-help: The Artist’s Way.

  • The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is right up there. Also love The Master and Margarita by Bulgokov.

  • jim_ed

    A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It’s the funniest book I’ve ever read, coupled with incredible richness in the setting and characters. Even though it was written nearly 50 years ago, its satire still holds up incredibly well. You know damn well Myrna Minkoff would have been an Occupy organizer.

  • Catch -22 with honorable mention to All the Kings Men

    • Second for catch-22, it’s hilarious, but deep and introspective all at once, and still feels pretty relevant. It’s one of the few books I’ve read more than once.

  • Daisy Fey and the Miracle Man – Fannie Flagg’s first book.

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

  • Jitterbug Perfume

  • Underworld, by Don DeLillo. A beautifully written opus about a baseball that even non-baseball fans will love.

  • Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. If you are a Michigan grad – he is former English Professor and the book has great characters and lots of warm Ann Arbor references.

    • As a Michigan grad, I wish I could put a thousand +++++ to this. The movie is horrible, and I don’t generally love Baxter’s writing, but this book has had my heart for years.

  • Ham on Rye by Bukowski. I never really read much when I was younger, but a friend gave me this in high school and I loved it.

  • The Phantom Tollbooth!

  • Earth Abides, John R. Stewart. So, so good.

  • Atlas Shrugged

    • Could you please explain why? I really can’t comprehend why people like her books.

      • Because whoever this is has not yet graduated high school.

      • I’m pretty sure it’s a joke. Even if it’s not, I doubt their reason for loving Atlas Shrugged is going to make any sense to you.

      • Atlas Shrugged has always held a passionate appeal for many 16-22 year olds. Outside of the episodic (endless) dissertations, it is a fairly compelling story with very obvious good guys and very obvious bad guys. The theme of an exceptional brilliant individual going up against the moronic dull-minded government obstructionists appeals to that age group since they, naturally, see themselves as the exceptional brilliant individual.

        • “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. ” — Kung Fu Monkey

  • I am Legend by Richard Matheson…awesome.

  • Living My Life by Emma Goldman–such a badass woman and amazing alternative perspective on those decades in US history.

    The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison–I read this after seeing a play version of it at Studio Theater and it was so incredible and moving and felt very modern and relevant to today’s issues. The writing just makes you want to cry it’s so good.

  • Quotia Zelda

    Fiction: Middlemarch

    Nonfiction: A MIdwife’s Tale

  • justinbc

    Terry Pratchett – The Colour of Magic
    While not my favorite in the Discworld line of books (Small Gods gets that honor), it was the one that introduced me to the series which led to countless laugh out loud sessions. The amount of joy I received as a result of finding this book is immeasurable.

  • I have a tie on favorite non-fiction (funny, they also represent my literary crushes:

    • Oops- user error. Anyway – they are:
      1. Tale of Two Cities – I re-read it on a plane a couple of years ago and people probably thought I was very weird because it makes me cry every time. Sydney Carton’s selfless act to ensure the happiness of the woman he had loved from a distance forever is just beautiful. “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done.” Totally makes me cry.
      2. To Kill a Mockingbird – what’s not to love? And Atticus is another literary crush.
      3. Scarlet Pimpernel – this is a love story and a story of finding your inner heroism that wouldn’t happen today. They would have gotten divorced and never spoken to each other again. Instead, they ended up saving lives. Plus, the musical is great fun.

      Non-fiction – My favorite is Stiff by Mary Roach. It’s a book about cadavers. Sounds creepy, but it is funny, thought inspiring and totally made me think about what I want done with my body when I die. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved it. She also has a book about sex (Bonk), the after-life (Spooks) and a couple others. She is a phenomenal writer.

      • Quotia Zelda

        I love The Scarlet Pimpernel! The movie version with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon is swoony, too.

        • Emmaleigh504

          I love when Howard recites this:
          We seek him here,we seek him there,
          Those Frenchies seek him everywhere!
          Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?
          Where is that damn elusive Pimpernel!

          • Recognizing that James Bond was kind of a modern-day update up to this archetype, Kingsley Amis penned his version of the above is his critical survey of Ian Fleming’s work, “The James Bond Dossier”:

            “Is he in Hell, or is he in Heaven,
            That damned, elusive 007?”

          • I also liked the remake with Anthony Andrews. “Sink me!”

      • StubsDC – I will have to check out those non-fiction books you mention, because you just listed three of my favorite novels! Clearly you have good taste!

        • Yes! Mary Roach’s books are amazing. I love them all, but Packing for Mars is my favorite – it’s about astronauts and the space program and discusses everything from their training to how they poop in space. Hilarious, a little gross, and very informative.

      • With you 100% on A Tale of Two Cities. Hard for me to name my absolute favorite, but that would definitely be in the top 3 and for the same reason you gave.

      • I loved a Tale of Two Cities for the same reason!

      • Love “Stiff” and everything by Mary Roach – she is brilliant.

  • The Hotel New Hampshire. Also, The Satanic Verses (Rushdie) and Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez).

  • ALL TIME FAV: Count of Monte Cristo – Dumas
    Other Loves:
    Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion – Austen (although I’ve read and loved all her works)
    Anthing by Christopher Moore (LAMB was awesome but all his works make me giggle)
    J. Maarten Troost’s books – Getting Stoned with Savages, The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Lost on Planet China
    Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
    The History of the World in 6 Glasses – Tom Standage
    The Black Count – Tom Reiss
    The Other Wes Moore – Wes Moore
    … and so many more… πŸ™‚

  • Big day for Mark Helprin. A Soldier of the Great War was the first thing that popped to mind.

    The best recent reads: Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

  • My favorites include:
    Brothers Karamazov – This book has so much in it – really explores the human condition
    A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never do Again – some of the most hilarious essays you will ever read. R.I.P DFW,

  • Emmaleigh504

    I have sooooo many favorites! Here are a few for now.
    Quite a Year for Plums by Baily White
    Baby Soniat by Neal Holland Duncan
    So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld (really any of his books)

    The Sisters by Mary S. Lovell
    Bright Young People by DJ Taylor

  • Fiction – The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkein). There’s a great youtube video of Tolkein reading a poem in Elvish – what a wonderful imagination Tolkein had.

    Non-fiction – Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell).

    Somewhere in-between – Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side

  • Leaves of Grass
    The Golden Compass
    The Handmaid’s Tale

  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

  • A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. An absolutely epic life story of an incredible human being.

    Blue Rage Black Redemption by Stanley Tookie Williams. The life story of the co-founder of the Crips and his journey for personal redemption.

  • So many excellent selections, but extra props to Kimberly for The Count.
    Let me just throw out Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for sheer hilarious awsomeness in combination with biting and brilliant social commentary; Delta of Venus for being truly poetic as well as truly pornographic; and Anna Karenina for its ability to touch the soul.

  • My all time favorite book is East of Eden. I first read it in English class as a high school senior. I loved it so much I bought my own copy. I’ve read it at least 3 times since then. My copy is bookmarked and underlined with my favorite parts. The book has traveled with me through college and graduate school and beyond; through 5 different states and 8 moves over the past 11 years. To me, the book is a timeless story with unforgettable characters. You get completely absorbed into their lives. I think Cathy is one of the best literary villains of all time. And the conversations between Lee and Samuel Hamilton are my favorite parts of the book.

  • I love this thread . . . so many great books . . . I can’t pick a favorite . . . so I’ll pick a great work of fiction that nobody’s mentioned yet. The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty. It starts as a pretty straightforward, humorous tale of a black boy growing up as a surfer/skater on the west side of Los Angeles, but by the end of the book the story has spun wildly out of control. Very funny. Witty racial satire. A quick read. I’ve read all of Beatty’s books and I think this one, his first, is his best to date.

  • Madame Bovary. It is the perfect novel. Excellent story, well written, not a word or chapter wasted. Totally blew me away.

  • A family friend gave me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and I read them in Kindergarten (which seems insane now that I have a four year-old). I felt like they shaped my entire life.

  • Another vote for “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”

  • The History of Love- Nichole Krauss

  • Favorite fiction: tie between The Stand and Cloud Atlas. Both a little sci-fi-y which is funny since most of the books i read are not sci-fi at all. But I do adore apocalypse themes….

    Favorite non-fiction: Again, a tie between Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Warmth of Other Suns (fantastic work on a chapter of US History that I really didn’t know very much about. At all. Maybe that’s more a testament to having done K-12 and college in Virginia πŸ™‚

    • The Warmth of Other Suns is another non fiction favorite of mine! I also enjoyed Cloud Atlas, even though I’m not really into sci-fi.

  • The Bible.

  • Ugh, seriously, the impossible question! But “Razor’s Edge” by Maugham is pretty freakin’ good! Also, anything by Updike-

  • If you loved Catcher in the Rye when you were in high school, you need to read King Dork by Frank Portman.

  • I don’t know if I have a favorite of all time, but I want to put in a plug for “Historical Sketches at Washington”, readable on Google Books, published in 1877 by George Alfred Townsend (a humorist known as Gath who was buds with Mark Twain and had a similar dry observational humor style). Full of tidbits of local swells and weirdos in DC of the time, my favorite being the corn doctor of Capitol HIll.

  • The Twits by Roald Dahl is still by all time favorite. Beware the dreaded shrinks! It still makes me chuckle. I’m also becoming a huge DH Lawrence fan. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is really amazing.

  • Fiction: “Lucky Jim” by Kingsley Amis. The funniest novel ever written, period. I know you “Confederacy of Dunces” fans will disagree, but: you’d be wrong.

    Non-Fiction: I’m a huge fan of personal/critical essays, and you can’t go wrong with any collection by the following: Paul Fussell, Clive James, Joseph Epstein, Pauline Kael, and Chuck Klosterman, among many others I’m momentarily forgetting. And I’m always flummoxed when people list Orwell’s fiction as their favorites, when most of it shows just how unsuited he was to the novel as a genre. His best stuff is his personal and critical essays. Pick up “The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (four volumes) for a lesson in how English prose should be written.

  • This is kind of like asking the Duggers to pick their favorite child – but I’d have to start with “Tropic of Capricorn” by Henry Miller, “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn and “Song of the Dodo” by David Quammen.

  • for humor it would be a tie between Confederacy of Dunces and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. i cried-laughed through both. The Fear and Loathing movie was so disappointing though – didnt capture Thompson’s humor at all. I hear they are making a Confederacy of Dunces movie and am sort of afraid to see it.
    fiction – the Quincunx by Charles Palliser – long, convoluted, and mysterious. i was completely engrossed!

  • I’m awful at picking favorites! That said, here are a few books that stood out to me in the past few years:

    Fiction: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Mephisto by Klaus Mann, Open City by Teju Cole, Middlemarch

    Nonfiction: Post-War by Tony Judt, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, and The Years of Extermination by Saul Friedlander, which I’m reading right now. It’s horrifying and life-changing.

  • History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes.

  • Rosemary’s Baby
    The Little Prince

  • The Stranger-detailed and emotional imagery without being too wordy.
    The Paper-it makes me laugh every time I read the snappy dialogue.

  • justinbc

    Another mention, although not exactly my favorite, I did find the “The Girl Who…” series particularly gripping. It was also kind of funny to be the only guy I ever saw reading the series and finishing up the third by the time the rest of the DC area seemed to catch on (i.e. when it became a movie). I really liked the dark storytelling and unique but plausible characters.

  • I can’t choose one, don’t ask me to.

    The Great Gatsby-so beautifully written, so achingly sad.
    Generation X-perfectly captured what it was like to be young and smart and want to set the world on fire, but have no idea how to go about doing it.
    We Need to Talk About Kevin-the most masterfully written book I have read in a long time. The subject matter is terrifying, but the way it is told is so thoughtful and intricate and compelling.
    Mother Night-Story of an American double agent who posed as Nazi propagandist during WWII.

    Persepolis-Coming of age story about a smart, funny girl growing up in Islamic Revolution-era Tehran.
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks-History of the unwitting “donor” of the world’s most prolific cell sample. Fascinating study of medical ethics and bodily autonomy in medicine.
    And The Band Played On-Sprawling history of the AIDS epidemic..
    Down and Dirty Pictures-Thorough, gossipy history of 90’s independent cinema, focusing on Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein.

    • Emmaleigh504

      I just reread Generation X and still loved it. Have you read MicroSerfs? The chunky days part still cracks me up.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who still likes The Great Gatsby. A lot of people I know say they don’t like it because none of the characters are particularly likeable people. Um, that’s the point.

      Of course, there are valid reasons for not liking it and everyone has different taste, I just feel like it’s become the “in” thing to not like The Great Gatsby lately!

    • binpetworth

      Good choices! I loved the HBO adaptation of And the Band Played On…amazing to me how far we’ve come in such a short time.

  • So impossible to choose….

    Fiction: Lord of the Flies or A Feast for Crows
    Non-Fiction: Black Hawk Down

  • Sometimes a Great Notion

  • Twilight Saga. No question.

  • There is a nearly impossible question, but for fiction I’ll go with Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It was so compelling, I couldn’t put it down. I don’t read nearly as much non-fiction, but my favorite is definitely A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

    • I was just going to give a nod to Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. I see I’m also not alone in loving John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and Ian McEwan’s Atonement are also wonderful.

      I don’t really re-read books, but I think I may need to give Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree another try. It was way too much for me as a high school student.

      I’m not a big non-fiction reader. I liked Isadora Duncan’s autobiography My Life a lot, and I really enjoyed Jill Ker Conway’s memoir The Road from Coorain. I’m sure there are plenty of books I’ve overlooked.

  • My favorites of all time are The Awakening and The Bell Jar-both so well written, with main characters with strong voices. and both realistically portray things a lot of people feel/have felt better than anything else I’ve ever read.

    The first book that I remember ever having a real effect on me was The Giver. I read it in 5th grade and continued to read it yearly for several years after that.

    The first book I remember really loving as a child was Corduroy. I actually actively seeked out stuffed animals (or “stuffies” as I called them as a child) with small flaws when I was younger so they could be just like Corduroy.

    And my favorite non-fiction book is Night by Elie Wiesel-I know some people doubt that it’s 100% memoir, but Wiesel says it is, so I count it as non-fiction. So powerful and well-written.

    • Emmaleigh504

      When I was a kid I read the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (I love her name!) and it really spoke to my 10-ish year old self. I still remember it so well. I should reread it and see if I still like it.

      • I actually recently re-read the Giver and it definitely still interested me. Of course, I saw it through a different lens then I did 20 years ago when I first read it, but I think that’s one of the marks of a great book-you can read it at different times in your life and pull different things out of it.

  • My favorite books of all time are probably “Pride and Prejudice” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
    More recently, I was really impressed with Emma Forrest’s writing in “Your Voice In My Head.” I liked much of Howard Jacobson’s writing in “The Finkler Question,” but the ending was anticlimactic — so much so that I forgot that I had finished it and picked it up again where I left off (or so I thought).

  • Like so many others I find it hard to chose. Love in the Time of Cholera reminded me why I loved to read. One Hundred Years of Solitude made me a Marquez devotee. Invisible Man made a week go by so fast it is just a blur. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and Light in August, by Faulkner were over before I could stand it. Can someone please write another book like The Warmth of Other Sons?

  • Nine Stories, JD Salinger. Forevah.

  • Since no one’s mentioned it yet – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

  • Slaughterhouse Five.

  • whenever I’ve moved I’ve had to go through the book piles and decide what to keep. the last time, a couple of years ago, I decided to be ruthless and only keep books I would either want to read again (i.e., my faves) or books that were useful (e.g., cookbooks, etc). Very hard for me to pick just one favorite. some of the ones I kept —
    Turn of the Screw (Henry James)– knew I’d reread it again and again after it was first assigned in high school,
    A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving),
    Lonesome Dove (Mcmurtry)
    Smilla’s Sense of Snow,
    Charlotte’s Web (EB White)–the copy my grandparents gave me

  • Infinite Jest
    Uncle Tom’s Children
    The Savage Detectives
    Anything by Kurt Vonnegut

  • Tropic of Capricorn, The Brothers Karmazov

  • Land of the Blind by Jess Walter, for Eli Boyle’s terrifying waits for the morning school bus!

  • The Joke by Milan Kundera

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Comments are closed.