It’s my 40th birthday today and recently when going through some old folders I came across this list I made in 1999 when I was 20 years old. It’s a ranking of my 100 favourite books at that time. While I was at university and instead of going to parties or socializing I’d spend many hours in the library where, in addition to reading, I’d spend time making lists of my favourite books or literary graphs charting out when key books were published in relation to each other. I know, what a geek! But I’ve had fun going through this and trying to figure out which of these books still stand up as my all-time favourite books and which I’ve either forgotten or realize I’ve only chosen because it makes me look like a smarter reader.
One of the interesting findings I’ve had from working on the ‘Rediscover the Classics’ campaign with the reading analytics company is how people choose whether to recommend a book because of the perceived worthiness of its content or reputation. So we’ve found that quite often when readers consume a new romance or thriller as part of a test campaign they will respond they really enjoyed reading it but wouldn’t recommend it to friends (presumably because it’s seen as a guilty pleasure.) Conversely, some readers indicated they didn’t enjoy reading some of the classics we’ve offered, but still state that they’ll readily recommend them. So it’s interesting how social perceptions play into the books we want to talk about and discuss with other readers.
It got me thinking about how I’m sure my 20 year old self put some books on this list because I felt like I had to because they are such revered classics or it’d make me look like a smarter reader. I hope that these days I’m less concerned about how people will react when I say a book is my favourite, but it’s difficult to know how much social perception factors into these types of decisions. From the list below I’d say “The Waves” absolutely still ranks as my favourite book since I’ve continued rereading it both in physical form and on audio book. Some other books that I love and still rank highly in my mind are “Crime & Punishment”, “Blindness”, “Ragtime”, “Song of Solomon”, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”, “Invisible Man”, “The Age of Innocence”, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”, “A Handful of Dust”, “Ladder of Years”, “Bartleby the Scrivener”, “The Earth”, “Madam Bovary” and “Mrs. Caliban”. Others like “Moby Dick”, “Underworld”, “Bleak House”, “The Stranger” and “On the Road” I’ll admit to having put on for more pretentious reasons. I know I’d have to reread a lot of these to know for sure, but it’s still fun to look through them and think about it.
If I were to make a new list now it'd obviously include many different books from authors I've read over the past two decades like Joyce Carol Oates, Ali Smith, Nadeem Aslam, Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Strout, Colm Toibin, Rachel Seiffert, Jessie Greengrass and Edmund White.
I think it’s really interesting how our memories of books change over time and it’s difficult to know when you revisit them if your interpretation of it changes because you have different social perceptions now about reading or if you’ve changed. Let me know if we share any favourites from my list below. Also let me know if you’ve ever made any personal favourite book lists like this and if you’ve revisited them when you’re older.