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Picking Favorites: Books That Make Me Sigh With Satisfaction

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The most common question I am asked during my book tour for Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, is: what was your favorite book of the year? I can understand the question. For one year I read a book a day and wrote about each book I read. I read 365 books, all new to me, by 365 different authors. Of course I must have had favorites. But one favorite? When my year was over, I had over ninety books on my website's list of "Great Books." Different books that wowed me, awed me, and made me sigh when I'd finished reading them: sighs of satisfaction and sighs wishing for more. Sighs that are signs of a great book.

A great book happens when I pick up a book and can't put it down again; when I cannot suppress the sighs upon finishing it; when I cannot wait to tell everyone I know: read this book!

But how to pick a favorite? No one would ever ask me to pick which of my children is my favorite, or which of my parents or sisters I prefer over the other. Family cannot be so divided up, one on the side designated "favorite" and all the others grim-faced on the other side of the line, designated "not-so-favorite." The books I love are like family (complete with a black sheep or two) and I cannot select one out of the bunch to deem most favored, most special, or most great.

As a child, it was easy to pick a best friend, a favorite sibling, and a favorite book: Harriet the Spy was my first favorite book, and later, Nancy Drew's The Clue in the Old Album too its place. By high school, I had discovered Graham Greene and The Burnt-Out Case and on the cusp of college, Nadime Gordimer's Burger's Daughter took favored book status. And then as I settled into being an adult, the favorite books instead became favored authors: Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Dickens, Philip Roth, Stewart O'Nan, Thrity Umrigar, Colin Channer, Ursula Le Guin, Barbara Kingsolver, Martha Grimes, Geraldine Brooks, Jose Saramago -- but the list goes on and on, and I cannot possibly name all my favorites, much less pick one favorite book or author, or even genre.

I still fall in love with books, feel the sighs of happiness and satisfaction, and run to the phone to tell everyone I know to read my latest find of greatness. But one favorite book? Can't do it. Please don't make me try. But while we're here: what's your all-time favorite book? I always have room for more, and lungs strong enough to sigh deeply, again and again.