Last week, the editors of the New York Times Magazine conducted a poll via Twitter: “What are your top 5 fiction books?” My feed lit up with a stream of titles: The Great Gatsby, Infinite Jest, Crime and Punishment, Jane Eyre. It was like a reader’s stock ticker with books instead of companies. Every morning, I logged on to see what would come next: Ulysses, The Awakening, The Godfather, Moby-Dick. I was enthralled—so much so that I could not respond myself.
How could I pick? I was the keyboard equivalent of struck speechless, which seemed ironic as I am not known for being short on words. Should I simply list all five Jane Austen novels? Ok, there are six but Mansfield Park, really? Or, I could go with the first five Harry Potter novels, but that leaves “He–Who-Must–Not-Be-Named” still alive. I would need to include Anna Karenina, but what about Vanity Fair? I didn’t want to keep to the classics, having just read Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. And, what about my less cerebral favorites? I could not put down Michael Crichton’s Timeline, and who did not love Confessions of a Shopaholic? I’ve read Aunts Aren’t Gentleman three times, but alas NYT Magazine specified one could not include “all Wodehouse” as an entry. Luckily, they also limited it to fiction, or I would not have been able to leave out Nien Cheng’s Life and Death in Shanghai or David Grann’s The Lost City of Z.
Finally, I closed my eyes and just typed: Cold Mountain, Suite Française, The English Patient, Wuthering Heights, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. Instant remorse set in. I was like Sir Galahad on Monty Python’s Bridge of Death. “Blue, no green … aaahhhhh!”
That’s why I’m so hooked on books. On any given day, my list of favorites changes. I have just read Tim Winton’s radiant story collection, The Turning, and I’m now deep into George RR Martin’s A Clash of Kings … so please no Dance with Dragons spoilers.