Aviva V. Maxon ’24
I was sitting at a dinner where we were going around introducing ourselves. All that was required was a basic introduction and an answer to the question: what is your favorite book?
This question has led me to panic for a while now. In middle school, my favorite books were Harry Potter and It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. I often say Vizzini’s book is still my favorite since nothing has stuck out so much to me since reading it in high school. As we made it around the circle, I became increasingly nervous. Some of the books mentioned before me included This Side of Paradise, Crime and Punishment, and a few books by big-name thinkers and leaders. All in all, these people were reading and loving some high-brow books.
I like to think of myself as an avid reader. I am almost always in the middle of a book or two outside my schoolwork. I’ve read lots of the ‘greats’— Fahrenheit 451, Catcher in the Rye, Margaret Atwood’s novels, and more. Still, I felt like this crowd would look down on me if I were to say my favorite books were celebrity memoirs (Nick Offerman’s Where the Deer and Antelope Play, Tina Fey’s Bossypants) and romance novels (The Bookshop of Second Chances and One Last Stop). When my turn came, I shared my favorite book from childhood: It Zwibble, the Star-touched Dinosaur.
One of the many reasons I came to a liberal arts college was to have the opportunity to talk about books, be surrounded by books, and be among people who love books just as much as I do. In class, we read and talk about great books by scholars and people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of knowledge. This habit is wonderful and fulfills the need to think about and read books deeply, but it leaves out the ability to read books at a surface level or just for pleasure.
I want to read books that take me on adventures, where characters make hard choices and fall in love. I want to read books that show me what it is like to live as someone other than me. I want to read books that are joyous and fun, some may contribute to the wider knowledge of humanity, and some may be just good stories with compelling characters.
Why do our favorite books have to fall into the narrow canon of literature, which not only is complex but also generally leaves out authors with marginalized identities? We can learn from and enjoy the ‘classics’ without holding them above all other books.
A celebrity memoir, romance novel, or a ‘classic’ are all books. They all share knowledge, a story, or something to learn. The classification of the book should not matter. The point is to read, to gain more knowledge, and to find joy in story.
The best books I’ve read all have characters I can connect with, feel what they feel, and learn from their mistakes. Just because the book is not enshrined in the canon of literature does not mean it does not have anything to share.
We take books too seriously. We should be having fun with the stories we read (and write). We should enjoy learning and growing. I learned to love reading and to love books, because I fell in love with the characters on the page.
You are not more intelligent, interesting, or important if you have a high-brow favorite book. Books we read for the sake of enjoyment are just as important and often have just as much to say about the world as the renowned ‘classics.’
Image Source: ABC News