By Letitia Coyne
Posted May 3, 2012
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Just lately people keep asking me the worst possible question. No, not questions about the motivating forces that apply to perambulating ducks, not ‘would you kill your child to save the world?’ not ‘do you want fries with that?’; worse.
What is your favourite book?
How does anyone ever answer that? At any given moment, it might be the book I am reading now or the one I wish I was reading. I do not have any exclusivity in genre preferences; I’ll read most things and enjoy many. There are too many variables that influence my choice.
There is the weather. Cold wet weather makes me want to read classics. If I can curl up in comfy chair with a hot Milo or Irish coffee, with a TimTam and a duvet, then I like to read old books and pretend it is a simpler time or the world is a different place. So I’d have to start with a list of classical Literature that I have enjoyed repeatedly. But to pick one?
Hot sunny weather is unlikely to bring on a reading binge, but if it did I would want something foreign. Living in Queensland all my life has never cured me of associating heat and humidity with pre-war Singapore, all white linen and broad-brimmed hats on ladies sipping G&Ts on rattan verandah chairs, or colonial African plains spreading out for ever with the threats of adventure, blood and riches. There are masses of those, too. Which one is best?
If, like me, you have had multitudes of sport-playing children to chauffer about on the weekends, you will know there is rarely time to watch any one of them compete. The schedule demands you drop one off with gear early, to get another to their venue just in time to head back across the endless suburbs to where another must be signed in, signed for, paid for, kitted out, fed, and photographed before the whole journey runs again backwards. Throughout that day you will have periods, however brief, where waiting in carparks reading is the only sane option. That book has to be light. That’s the time for chicklit or comedy or blissfully both! But not for Dostoyevsky. Or it’s time for a great short story collection. Or even a comic. So – choose your favourite carpark book, I dare you to try.
Doctors’ waiting rooms. Yes, you’re groaning. It depends, doesn’t it? Do you want to flick through an eleven year old celebrity focused magazine with the crossword done in red biro and wrong? No. No one does, but they persevere because trying to choose a good doctors’ waiting room book is too hard. It’s fine if it is only a check up, or a non-life threatening complaint. But what if you can’t think straight because of the persistent burning? What if there is a lump or a discharge? What if it is a prenatal checkup and you are so excited you just cannot see the words?
Having a few different favourite books to take to the doctor is essential. I like books I can open at any page, and familiarity with them allows me to resume reading from any point. If there are really loud and fascinating social interactions going on around you, [as there often are at my doctor's surgery] you can relax knowing you won’t have to keep re reading a passage every time your attention is snagged away.
Can’t sleep and need to? Then something biographical. So many interesting people, fascinating people, who have had the day-to-day diarized for them just so you can read their tales as you try to nod off. Can’t sleep and don’t care? Then something really gripping; something to take your mind off lying on the bed as the time ticks by. A great thriller or adventure novel. Or truly beautiful poetry or poetic prose that lets your tired mind flow through washes and waves of thought and imagery.
I haven’t scratched the surface of times to read, and each one has a hundred books that would be the perfect choice for that moment in time. So for every hundred moments, there are a hundred wonderful books. For every emotional state or state of confusion or relaxation, there are another hundred that I might be thrilled to pick up over and over again.
I answered the question recently for Tonya Moore. I said, ‘Precious Bane’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, and ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ as a box set. On reading that, a friend said, “What? You didn’t even mention Douglas Adams?” No I didn’t. I wasn’t thinking of humour at that moment. I was thinking about loam and lovechildren. I didn’t mention Homer, or Terry Pratchett or PG Wodehouse either and every one of their books is a favourite. I might have alighted on ‘The Prophet’ or ‘Sacrament’ or ‘Titus Andronicus’.
I cannot choose. I cannot, ever, reliably choose my favourite book.
If you can, how? What is it and why is it so far above all the beauties of literature that it holds its place in every circumstance? How do you do it?
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