Favorite Books?

Recently, I was asked, as part of a profile article that will appear in a “genre” magazine in February, to name my five favorite F&SF books. Usually, I resist the “top five” syndrome, but the article writer and her editor insisted that they weren’t asking for my rating as to the “best” five books, but my favorite five books. So I gave them a list, but when I looked at the list a day later, I discovered that the “newest” book was something like ten years old. However, in my defense, I must add that I didn’t read it until three years ago. So it’s not just that I’m stuck in the past, or not entirely. And no, I’m not going to reveal the list, at least not until the article is published, out of courtesy to the publication, but I will discuss the entire business of favorites.

Are “favorites” something that strike us when we’re younger and more impressionable and never let go? That’s a simple and easy answer… and like all simple and easy answers, I don’t think it’s accurate, although there may be a tiny grain of partial truth buried there. Why do I think that? Well… first off, I’m not one of the younger readers or writers in this field. Without totally giving away my age, I will point out that I read my first “real” SF book, at least the first I remember reading, in 1955 [and for those who want to know, the book was A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan and it wasn’t one of my listed “favorites” because it has too many impossibilities and improbabilities]. After that, I read science fiction and then fantasy fairly voraciously for the next 20-25 years, not that I didn’t also read mysteries, history, poetry, and other works avidly as well. Now, while three of my F&SF favorites were published in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I didn’t read them then, because I happened to be occupied in other endeavors in Southeast Asia, until a good ten years later, when I was a political staffer in Washington. D.C., already cynical, and anything but an impressionable young reader.

Still… I don’t find that many books published in recent years resonate the way those favorites do. Occasionally, one does, as did the “newest” one on my list, and as do others that I find good and enjoyable, but not quite in the top five. Part of that is clearly that I’m a curmudgeon of sorts who doesn’t much care for action for the sake of action, shock for the sake of shock, newness for the sake of newness, but part of it is that, in my personal opinion, for too many current writers in the field story-telling trumps writing. By that, I mean, for me, a truly memorable book is one where the style and the story-telling are both good — and seamless. That’s certainly what I strive for as a writer, and what I look for as a reader. But it’s also clear to me, particularly in reading the reader reviews thrown up [and I use that term advisedly] by many younger people, anything that resembles grace, style, and depth is unwanted if it slows down the action or the sex or the bloodshed. This viewpoint reflects a society that values degrees, credentials, prestige, and money over education, actual accomplishment, and understanding, and while I certainly can’t change a changing society, except perhaps through my writing, which reaches only a comparatively limited number of readers, and generally the more educated ones at that, I don’t find the superficial values rewarding, and there are comparatively fewer books written that exemplify the values I do find rewarding.

So… I’m left to conclude that favorites reflect values, and that’s often why the favorite books, movies, and the like of older people are reflected in a disproportionate weighting of older works, and not merely because they read or saw them when they were young and “impressionable.”

1 thought on “Favorite Books?”

  1. Jason says:

    I agree, and in addition I would add that I think it takes a few years of a book bouncing around your brain after you've read it for you to truly realize the impact it had on you. My favorites are books that I not only go back and re-read on occasion, but those I think about when I'm reading other books as a standard to be measured against.

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