Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What's Your Favourite Book?

Ah, the eternal question. You say you read, and immediately people ask--what's your favourite book? (quickly followed by "who's your favourite author?", or, if they're feeling festive, "what are you currently reading?"). It's a tricky question. So many books. Some are well written. Some have amazing characters. And some are just inexplicably special to us, in a way that no one else can understand or appreciate.

But still, you must answer. Because it's a good question to ask. It tells you a lot about someone. If they quickly come back with Twilight, you know you've met a Twihard--and you know to get out of there, fast.

Otherwise, they may end the conversation by inviting you to get one of these. To match their own.

If they answer with something boring and literary, you know they're probably just trying to impress you. If they answer with a young adult romance, you know you met your soulmate.

For many years my favourite novel was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It's a young adult novel, but it is also an issue book, so it felt appropriate and worldly, at least to my ten-year-old self. Eventually, I admitted I enjoyed Princess Diaries more, and sometimes this became my answer. I would be a little embarrassed to say it, but at least everyone has heard of it, with the movie and all. It also functioned as a sort of shorthand, instantly telling people that I like realistic romances, typically with teenagers.

Those books still hold a special little place in my heart, along with many others that I formed an emotional attachment to as a child--the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, a lot of the Sarah Dessen novels, the Shopaholic books, the Jessica Darling series. Those are the ones I pick up when I'm sad or homesick or just plain bored, happy to spend some time with my favourite characters. The phrases are so familiar; I could practically quote each first page (and, of course, each romantic ending). I love them all so much.

Yet, none of those would be my answer. No, my favourite book is not in that list. It's not even young adult romance! It's not YA at all! I know! It surprises me too! It is actually a literary novel! And I promise, I don't just say this to be snotty and stuck up. This is actually my favourite book:

Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson

Now, this book is not at all famous. It's by a Canadian author, for heaven's sakes (Canadian authors get no love. Ever. It's a rule.). It's set in rural Ontario. It's not flashy. It doesn't have vampires or werewolves or boy wizards or anything like that. 

The plot is simple. To quote the annotated bibliography I handed into my extended essay supervisor:

"Crow Lake is a fictional tale of the Morrison children are torn apart by the sudden death of their parents in a car accident. Luke, barely nineteen, is forced to take responsibility of his three younger siblings: Matt, seventeen, and a brilliant scholar bursting with potential, Kate, seven, serious and thoughtful, and Bo, the baby, the all-consuming centre of attention.
Through this tragedy younger siblings Matt and Kate develop a deep bond, of student and teacher, parent and child, hero and worshipper. He is her guide, and it is his passionate interest in the natural world that sparks an equal passion in Kate. This deep bond is shattered when, in Kate’s eyes, Matt betrays all his potential, and betrays her, essentially, by getting his girlfriend pregnant at only seventeen. Kate goes to on to university, and becomes a professor, leaving Matt behind to raise his child on the farm. She surpasses him in everyway she can imagine. Kate feels terrible about her success, guilty and unworthy of it. It was Matt who had all the potential, but it is her who is living his dreams."
 To me, this novel has everything a favourite book needs:

1) An interesting plot: The plot is simple, but yet so rich. It's not filled with action, and yet it's still fascinating.

2) Attractive characters: All the characters, but Kate and Matt in particular, are well developed. The relationship between these two is so powerful, and so heartbreaking.

3) An emotional connection for the reader: Every time I read this book, even if its just a quick reread, even if its just a light skimming for essay quotes, I cry. Crow Lake connects with me, always.

I don't reread it as often as I reread, say, the ending of Second Helpings (You. Yes. You.). But that's only because I don't have the energy. Some nights, I don't have the emotional capacity to handle Crow Lake. Some nights, I don't want to cry, so I pick up Anna and the French Kiss. But on those rare nights when I do pick it from the shelves, I'm always amazed by it. Awed by the simple yet striking nature of the phrasing. Heartbroken by the characters lives. In love with the characters themselves.

It speaks to me in a way other books don't. I know part of that is just a personal thing. I know other people might not get that, may not enjoy this book. But for me, there's just something there. I feel for Kate, connect with her in a way I don't connect to Mia Thermopolis or Bella Swan or Katniss Everdeen. I understand her relationship with Matt. I live those silences with her. 

I wrote a twenty page essay on Matt and Kate's relationship, comparing it to Jeanette's relationship with her father in The Glass Castle. So I could go on forever. Because I could read this book forever. Because I will love it forever. It is my favourite book, forever. 

And that's my answer. Thanks for asking. 


  1. Great post! This is always a hard question to answer- my favourite books vary depending on my mood. For comfort and fun, it's Princess Diaries and Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. But most of my favourites are actually adult fiction, not YA. Like "My Turquoise Years" by Canadian M.A.C. Farrant. And Canadian Will Ferguson's "How to Be A Canadian". And Elinor Lipman's "Then She Found Me", which has been a fave for years and years.

  2. Princess Diaries-comfort, always. I love reading the first one,the part where Michael is introduced, so casually, when we all know he's going to become such a big character. The slow dancing. The meal after the movie in the second book. The end of the third book, of course. And Forever Princess. Though I heard a lot of people hated the last one--your thoughts?

    Second Helpings--Whenever I want to laugh. Jessica's hilarious. Particularly the part where she describes her university list. Love it! And, you know, I love Marcus just a wee bit.

    I'm going to look up the books you mentioned on the Indigo website (I love that I can say Indigo to a fellow Canadian, who actually knows what that is!). They all sound promising.

  3. Re: Forever Princess. I have to admit, the first time I read it, I didn't love it. I liked it, and thought everything had tied together wonderfully, but... it was just okay. Then, I read it a second time and it was just amazing. Way better the second time around. I don't know why it took a second read or what happened to make me change my mind! But it really is one of the best in the series. So much happens, Mia grows up, friendships evolve, characters grow stronger, etc. And Michael comes back. He and Mia's moments together are so funny, sweet, and awesome.

  4. I think I need to read Crow Lake, because your description makes me like... i dunno... really really really really want it? It sounds like one of those achingly emotional, non-sparkly books so I hope you're not wrong about it. ANd yes, Canadian authors need more exposure!

    And I love the title-collage, some pretty awesomesauce picks :)


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