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Anyone who has ever spoken to me or chatted with me online knows that I enjoy talking about books. Like a lot. I’ll tell you what I think you would like, which book I’m reading, which new publications I’m excited about, or a misread author who, in my opinion, needs more readers. I’ll tell you what my favorite book covers right now are, aspiring book cover designers I love to follow online, and my favorite fonts to read. I am happy to tell the book drama on the Internet for a week and ask you for your opinion on it.

But don’t ask me what my favorite book is.

I understand this can be an innocent question, and what more could a book person want than to talk about their favorite book? But it’s my worst nightmare.

Maybe you mean my all time favorite book that I use by default as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I will read the book over and over and learn something new every time I open its pages. But it’s hard to call it my “all time” favorite because there are so many categories of favorites.

Book cover for Kindred by Octavia Butler

You mean my favorite book I had to read for the college summer reading that was related by Octavia Butler? It was the first time that a book really made me think about racial inequality and others who experience life differently from me. Or do you mean my favorite book that I also read with fun, namely The Outsiders by SE Hinton? Or maybe the answer could be Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, my favorite book that taught me classics could be both thoughtful and funny and that these two are not mutually exclusive.

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Maybe you mean a current favorite book? But that could be anything from my favorite book from the last few years (We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry) to my favorite book I’ve read this year (Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley). Or, my favorite might be for me to read again (The Mediator by Meg Cabot), a series I’ve loved since I was a scared teenager.

Book cover for A Great and Terrible Beauty

But when we talk about the teenage years, I can’t skip my favorite book that tore my heart to pieces and put it back together like A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray did. Or my favorite books that made me laugh and enjoyed so much in the tumultuous teenage years, like the Georgia Nicolson series (Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging), which got my friend and I to create our own Dance and nicknames just because of these books. Maybe you mean my favorite book club book – my first 7th grade book club was reading A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, and it changed my view of reading in general when I learned that I couldn’t just have great, fun adventures, but also the ego could travel in time to hear of really heartbreaking stories, stories that so many real girls went through.

Or should I go all the way back and tell you about my childhood darling, Nate the Great, a series about a detective with his pancake-loving dog, the books that inspired me to carry a little notebook around, just in case I found “clues” for a puzzle to be solved?

Book cover of The Thirteenth Tale

Still, you might have asked about my lonely island readings, about the books I will take to a remote island and which I will never get bored of. Was that it? These also change with the (deserted island) winds, but usually include The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Or what about my favorite book that I think has influenced me the most when I reflect on the world today and my own views and privileges (The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison) or one of the recent favorite awardees that I have think more people should read to learn about the world around them (Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam)?

We haven’t even spoken to favorite authors – of course, all of the authors of my favorite books are my favorite authors too. But do you mean my favorite author with a huge backlist that I can rely on when I love pretty much every book? That would be Agatha Christie. Or do you mean recently published favorite authors like Celeste Ng and Helen Oyeyemi? They also have books that I would include in my favorites but generally not put in my favorite “Books” category because they have so many!

I know you mean well when you ask about my favorite book and give me an easy opening for small talk. But there are so many ways, so many categories, so many ways of doing it. So some advice?

Please don’t ask me what my favorite book is. Or prepare for a dissertation.