Monday, October 29, 2007

Best versus favorite?

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about favorite books, and I made the distinction that my favorite books aren't necessarily the books that I think are the best, or most well-written. The example I gave was with movies: I think Schindler's List is a technically better movie that, say, Say Anything, but I wouldn't rate the former on my top 10 favorite movies, whereas the latter is safely there. I've seen Say Anything countless times, and have enjoyed each viewing immensely. I've seen Schindler's List once, and found it moving, powerful, and beautiful to watch, but I have no desire to repeat the experience, because it was so draining. Maybe this has to do with the genre, romantic comedy versus drama, although I do think, in movies and in books, that I generally gravitate towards drama over comedy.

When I think of my favorite books, I think of titles like To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Watership Down, Ender's Game, Emily of New Moon, etc. Books I read as a child, and read over and over. But I can't say that they're "better" books than Beloved, 100 Years of Solitude, The Book Thief, or Ulysses (I've never read the latter, actually). Of course, the nostalgia factor plays a role, as does the opportunity to re-read the books. All of the books I mentioned earlier above I've read at least 3 or 4 times. Nowadays, unless it's a book I'm editing, I don't have time to read books more than once, which I find sad.

So, the question: do you make the distinction between favorite and best? What are some of the books on your lists?


Liz B said...

I have been obsessing over this for the past few weeks. I keep a "best books" on my blog sidebar, but sometimes, really? It's about favorite. But I know if I switched to favorite, sometimes, it wouldn't be a favorite but a best.

For me, "favorite" tends to be when something touches me personally, and often I recognize that it is not universal, and because of that personal aspect am willing to forgive or overlook flaws;
while "best" is something that I require MORE from. And usually it is a touch of phrase I just have to copy down, a character that haunts me long after I put the book down, a plot that is so well constructed that I don't even notice it.

Emily said...

I definitely recognize a difference between my favorites and the best... I mean, I'm very vulnerable to having my buttons pushed in certain ways, and I hope that I can realize when that's happening. But at the same time I don't want to discount the visceral "YAY!" I get from a book; I think going to the other extreme can potentially mean giving too much critical attention to books that try very, very hard to be Worthy. Not unlike Schindler's List, in my opinion.

And I think that what's great about blogs is that they allow you to filter through the visceral reactions and the squeeing, to build up--I think--a pretty good consensus of what's truly truly good.

Rita said...

I've often wondered what it says about me that my comfort zone tends more to be one kind of movie than another. But now that I think about it (now I've started this comment), I realize I feel strongly that it's just as hard to make a Say Anything, for example, as a Schindler's List. (Sometimes harder, depending on just how loaded a landmine field you are trying to navigate through, in terms of avoiding cliches and sap.) (And trying to be funny is really dangerous!)

As a writer, I aim for what I hope would become a favorite, but I feel the pull of writing, as Emily says above, something that would also be considered Worthy. (I try to ignore this. Don't know if I fully can.)

(Basically, how can there be such a thing as "best?" To reach someone--to become a favorite--that is the hard thing.)

So, to answer your question: I do make this distinction, instinctively. But whenever I think directly about it, it disappears.

Then again, I greatly enjoyed Liz B's answer, too. To know one's "flaws" in taste is to know oneself.

I've heard several people say they thought Schindler's List was amazing but still wouldn't watch it again (including me).

Beloved is totally on my list of favorites! (And Ender's Game!)

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh, I love Say Anything. I recently watched it all the way through with John Cusak and Cameron Crowe talking in the background throughout. It was so fun to hear them talk about it! :)

The books I enjoyed as a child are my most favorite. But every year, I add new favorites to my list, as in, books I love. I think if I love it, it's a favorite.

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