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On Favorite Books

When someone asks what my favorite book is, there are always two novels that come to mind. And I can’t for the life of me choose between them.

I love a lot of books. Like, A LOT OF BOOKS. I’ve read The Hunger Games trilogy and Anna and the French Kiss and half the Harry Potter books and Thirteen Reasons Why and the entirety of the Chronicles of Narnia series (and a bunch of others) at least three times each. I actually read Anna and the French Kiss back to back at one point this summer, just because I didn’t want it to end. (Also because OMG THAT ONE SCENE IN ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.) (I mean, you can’t help but reread Anna a thousand times after that.)

Of my two Absolute Favorite Books though, I’ve read one twice and the other one and a half times and I don’t have plans to reread either again anytime soon.

Those original reading experiences mean too much to me. I don’t want to spoil the memories I currently have locked between those pages with new ones that could never be as big or deep or significant as their predecessors.

The first of these two Absolute Favorite Books is Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. The second is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

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I had the honor of meeting Lauren Oliver in London this past summer and I maybe, possibly (definitely) was the most awkward, fidgety, trying-really-hard-not-to-cry-all-over-her fangirl alive. (Then my whole family ran in–we had been coming straight from touring Buckingham Palace and I beat them to the bookstore by, like, a solid twenty minutes–and they all whipped out cameras and basically turned into paparazzi because they know how much I love her. And if you want proof that Lauren Oliver is one of the best human beings ever, it is the fact that she did not call the police on us. Because we would’ve deserved it)

The funny thing is that Before I Fall is this kind of wonky, Groundhog Day-esque, lyrical contemporary YA and Code Name Verity is this very dark, bittersweetly beautiful, historical NA-ish-thing, and neither are anything I would ever write myself. They aren’t even books I would normally pick up. But they mean the world to me.

I don’t love Before I Fall and Code Name Verity the way I do because they’re particularly excellent on a technical level, even though they are. (Before I Fall has some of the best characters, and character development, I’ve ever read and Code Name Verity has just, like, one of the most perfectly executed plots ever written in the history of ever.) I love these books because they make me feel things in a way other books don’t, and I found them in times when I needed saving and they were exactly the right heroes, and they have shattered me and stomped on me and put me back together again.

And more than anything else, isn’t that what matters about books? More than the author’s use of symbolism, or well-done plot twists, or tightly-crafted prose, isn’t what a book makes us feel the part that stays with us the longest?

I recently re-read The Catcher in the Rye, and although I can tell you lots of reasons for why it’s a classic (that voice! that symbolism!), it honestly didn’t make me—personally, as an individual—feel a thing. But at the same time, I haven’t read a word of Code Name Verity in over a year and I still, you know, JUST HAPPEN TO HAVE SOMETHING STUCK IN MY EYE every time I think about it too much. And I will never forget the tough time Before I Fall pulled me through junior year of high school.

In essence, these books matter because they matter to me. Any book matters, first and foremost, because of how it affects the readers who love it most.

You don’t have to read a book (or watch a movie or listen to a song or take in a painting) “at least three times” for it to be your Absolute Favorite. You just have to remember how it made you feel, and treasure those memories caught in those pages, and know that that book is important. The fact that you believe it is important makes it so.

Every book, whether it has affected a single person or millions, is important.

To paraphrase Code Name Verity, “It’s like being in love, discovering your favorite book.”

And btw, you should totally read Before I Fall and Code Name Verity if you haven’t already. Not promising you’ll fall in love with them, but who knows. We’re all in need of saving at some point. Go out and find your heroes.

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About Julia Byers

I'm a twenty-something writer, publishing person, and tea addict who also dabbles in theatre, photography, film, and music. Suburban Michigan-->Oxford, England-->NYC. I once met JK Rowling and lived to tell the tale.

24 comments on “On Favorite Books

  1. Rcubed
    March 15, 2015

    OH MY GARGOYLES I READ *BEFORE I FALL* A COUPLE MONTHS AGO AND AT THE END I WSNTED TO CRY. in some parts it was a bit repetitive, but the characters were beautiful

    • Susannah Ailene Martin
      March 15, 2015

      “Oh my gargoyles” LOL. Best opener ever!

      • Julia Byers
        March 18, 2015

        I burst out laughing when I read that!

        I totally agree on the repetitive thing, but yeah, the character development is worth it. 🙂

  2. Ariel Kalati
    March 15, 2015

    I still need to read both of those! They are on my to-read list which is sitting right in front of me right now.
    I agree so much about your favorite books being ones that made you feel something and had an impact on your life. That’s what I want to do for readers so much with my writing, more than impressing them with its technical marvels or whatever- to change (or ruin, possibly) their lives. Harry Potter did that for me which is probably why it’s my favorite.

    • Julia Byers
      March 18, 2015

      Same. If I can make someone feel something, I know I’m doing my job right. (HARRY POTTER. <3)

  3. Bill Blume
    March 15, 2015

    Had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Lauren Oliver at the James River Writers Conference back when Before I fall first came out, so I read the book as part of my panel preparation. I completely agree about the character development in that book. She does such a convincing job of taking a horribly self-centered character and transforming her into one willing to sacrifice herself for others.

    • Julia Byers
      March 18, 2015

      That’s so awesome! And yes, she most certainly did. 🙂 It’s one of the few books I’ve read with that sort of development arc that felt natural.

  4. Pamela Nicole
    March 15, 2015

    That must’ve been so awesome! And YES to all this! I have finally narrowed down my list of favorite authors to Melina Marchetta, Julie Kagawa, and Stacey Jay. But books? How can I say which one is better than other? For me the problem is that I may adore the prose in one, in another I love the worldbuilding, and the other’s plot twists have me squealing in delight whether I’d seen it coming or I’d been completely clueless. (With Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles I have yet to have been completely sure of what this woman does.)

    • Julia Byers
      March 18, 2015

      I have that trouble, too! I think you really only need to find one thing you like about a book in order to like the book as a whole, so if an author has multiple things I like (ex: Maggie Stiefvater has beautiful writing and great plot twists and wonderful characters), I fall in love. 🙂 I’ll have to check out your favorite authors!

  5. Heather
    March 16, 2015

    I haven’t read those books but I know exactly what you mean. It’s my favorite books that never seem to leave me, haunt my waking hours and lead me off into my dreams at night because I don’t need to have the pages open to feel the story wrapped around my heart…

    Sorry, no, it’s just dust in my eye. I have to go. *speeds away sobbing like a fangirl because she is one*

    • Julia Byers
      March 18, 2015

      Beautiful way of putting it. (Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to purchase copious amounts of Kleenex. Wanna go in for a box?)

  6. John Hansen
    March 16, 2015

    I did not enjoy this post. Neither do I think it’s really important and needed to be said. Nope. Not at all. Of course not.

    (Before I Fall is actually one of my all-time favorites for the same reason–it made me *feel* so much. I was thinking about it even after I finished, and I still think about it sometimes. It’s weird because there are a lot of things that I didn’t think were done that well in it, but the essence of the story–and of the characters–shined through in a way few books are able to do.) (Also, I need to read CNV.)

    • Julia Byers
      March 18, 2015

      Ugh. Go away, John. NOBODY ASKED YOU.

      (I so agree. Before I Fall definitely has weak elements, but the parts it does well it does SO SO well.) (YES YOU DO GET ON THAT.)

  7. I loved Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, but I liked Rose Under Fire a smidge better. I have a hard time with the favorite book question as well, but I always resort to To Kill a Mockingbird. Now that I’ve read this post, I whole heartedly agree that the mark of a good book is one that makes the reader feel, and TKAM made me feel so many emotions all at once. As writers it can be difficult to capture emotions correctly, but when we do so, the effect is stunning. And now I must go read Before I Fall.

    • Julia Byers
      March 18, 2015

      That’s so interesting! I just read Rose Under Fire a few weeks ago and, while I loved it, I still liked Code Name Verity a little better.

      To Kill a Mockingbird is SO GOOD. I need to reread it.

  8. Soar Vandergeid
    March 17, 2015

    I have not read those books, I did not plan to read them, as a matter of fact I have never even heard of those two titles, but I have to reply to this post!
    Yes, a thousand times yes, this, ladies and gentlemen, THIS is what books (and any other type of story as a matter of fact) really are, they are what you felt when you read them and they are even more awesome because of what they make/made you feel when your read them!

    This is not something any book can achieve for anyone, and everyone has their own preferences, but that is one of the goal I want to reach as an author : making the experience of reading my stories unforgettable! (Still some work to do on that part though, but one day I’ll get there!)

    I have a few books like that that I could name, The count of Monte Cristo is one of them, and I can only say that what makes a book great is not just the book itself, but the whole universe that gravitates around it.
    Thank you for this post!

    I’ll give these two a shot one day, who nose (haha, joke) I might like them!

    • Julia Byers
      March 18, 2015

      Same! I can’t imagine writing something good enough to make people feel things the way my favorites make me feel things, but it’s definitely what I’m aiming for. Good luck! Hopefully someday we’ll both reach that point. 🙂

  9. Pingback: On Favorite Books | michaelbaron95

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  11. erinkenobi2893
    March 20, 2015

    Books are wonderful… I guess I’m really into fantasy because it’s sometimes so hard to find books in other genres that just speak to me…

    • Julia Byers
      March 22, 2015

      Ooh, what are some of your fave fantasies? I’ve been meaning to read more of that. 🙂

      • erinkenobi2893
        March 23, 2015

        My very favorite: “Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Other of my favorites sometimes bend over into sci-fi territory–the Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle, the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Also, the Redwall Series and Castaways of the Flying Dutchman trilogy by Brian Jacques, and the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John R. Flanagan. (I class that as fantasy mostly because though there are subdued fantasy elements, it’s set in an alternate universe version of Earth–England is Araluen, Ireland is Hibernia, France is Gaulica, and so forth. It’s actually more of a family drama, as it moves on in the series, and gains political thriller elements too. It’s a bit eclectic, but then, that’s any good fantasy for you. 😉 One of my fantasy novels is primarily a political thriller, set around a young man who is running away following the death of his mother.)

  12. Soundarya Rajagopal
    April 9, 2015

    I know, right?
    I cannot decide on a single favourite book, I mean there are SO MANY lovely books out there, each of them amazing in their own unique way. I find it really difficult to choose one particular book/series as my favourite. Right now my favourite books and series are:
    1. Harry Potter
    2. Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus
    3. Divergent Trilogy
    4. The Hunger Games Trilogy
    5. Agatha Christie
    6. The Book Thief
    …..Long list 🙂 but then….

    I love this post, the writing style especially 🙂

    By the way, my blog is turning one in eleven days and I’m hosting a poll to decide on the first anniversary post.
    The link is:http://rsoundarya0707.blogspot.in/2015/04/nothing-in-particular1-and-you-can-vote.html
    Your vote will mean a lot to me and please vote if possible. 🙂
    Amazing post and I love your blog ❤

  13. Ellie
    April 18, 2015

    Wow, awesome post! I couldn’t agree more that the books that make you feel something are the best ones. If I ever manage to write something that actually makes someone cry, I guess I’ll know I’ve reached my goal….Anyway, my favorites, mostly books that changed my writing style (or life, however you want to put it)

    Percy Jackson and the Olympians/Heroes of Olympus (possibly my favorite series ever)

    Harry Potter (same)

    The Hunger Games (okay, so I have a lot of favorites.)

    Legend by Marie Lu (Fast-paced and plenty of action, plus I love Lu’s writing style)

    The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (this one is something of an emotional roller coaster and the writing is beautiful. Very highly recommended!)

    The Book Thief (just plain amazing)

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