Some books I loved at certain ages are no longer favorites--but they still shaped me as a reader and person. For some ages, I knew exactly which book to pick, but for others I had to kind of guess how old I was when I was obsessed with it--and if I claim a book was my favorite 2 years before it was actually published, forgive me. If I couldn't quite figure out what my favorites were a certain points, I thought about which books I was rabidly recommending to others.
|Reading in the Chevy Blazer on a road trip with my dad, ca. 1977|
When I was one my favorite book was The Tale of Peter Rabbit because it's a book I know we had before I was born, and that I enjoyed. Also, my mom had this "baby's first plate" that was Peter Rabbit themed, so I'm pretty sure she would have read it to me then.
When I was two my favorite book was the funny pages because there's a great picture of toddler me perusing the newspaper with complete focus.
When I was three my favorite book was Hop on Pop because it was the first book I could read to myself.
When I was four my favorite book was Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile because it's one of the picture books I very clearly remember checking out repeatedly from our local library.
When I was five my favorite book was Little House in the Big Woods because it was the first chapter book I read on my own. My sister was reading it to me, but kindergarten got out before high school, and I couldn't wait to keep going with the story, so I read it myself.
When I was six my favorite book was No Flying in the House because my first grade teacher had a copy that I read and read and read all year. I also kept trying to kiss my elbow to see if I was a fairy yet.
When I was seven my favorite book was Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock because that was the year I was obsessed with her.
When I was eight my favorite book was The Silver Chair because after my third grade teacher read us The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, my sister and I read this book out loud to each other.
When I was nine my favorite book was The Call of the Wild because my "reading group" got to do a puppet play about it after we read it.
When I was ten my favorite book was Anne of Windy Poplars because my best friend gave it to me for my birthday, since our library branch only had the first three books, and I loved the epistolary nature of this entry into the series.
When I was eleven my favorite book was Dragonflight because with the misery of middle school, checking out a new Dragon Riders of Pern book from the school library each lunchtime was my solace.
When I was twelve my favorite book was A Separate Peace because I had an unhealthy admiration for New England rich boys and homoerotic subtext, I guess. No, actually it's because we read it in sixth grade and it made me cry, so I kept re-reading it the next year.
When I was thirteen my favorite book was The Tombs of Atuan because it was the most girl-centric of the early Earthsea books, and the imagery of Arha in the tombs was so vivid.
When I was fourteen my favorite book was The Chosen because it was one of the first adult novels I'd read that really brought me into a new world--or served as a window, to use Rudine Sims Bishop's phrase. My freshman English department must have been pretty deliberate in their book choices, given that we also read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Color Purple, and Cry the Beloved Country.
When I was fifteen my favorite book was A Tale of Two Cities because we'd just finished studying the French Revolution in Global Studies when I picked it up, and I was blown away by the drama of Dickens and the historical perspective he had so much closer to the events.
When I was sixteen my favorite book was A Vein of Riches because remember how I loved A Separate Peace when I was twelve? I became obsessed with the author and loved the combination of historical fiction, forbidden romance, and leftist politics this book embodied.
When I was seventeen my favorite book was The River Why because it was a coming of age novel set in my area that made me laugh and made me think.
When I was eighteen my favorite book was The Accidental Tourist because my best friend (of Anne of Windy Poplars fame) and I spent the summer reading it out loud to each other, fully enjoying Tyler's signature quirky characters and moving story line.
When I was nineteen my favorite book was The Handmaid's Tale because c'mon, what nineteen year old wouldn't be blown away by this? My college roommate took a course on Canadian authors and got me started reading Atwood.
When I was twenty my favorite book was The Book of Laughter and Forgetting because I read it in the wide windowsill of my dorm room in Denmark, trying to slow down and make it last a little longer.
When I was twenty-one my favorite book was He, She, and It because after The Handmaid's Tale, feminist sci fi was my thing. Plus I loved the human-cyborg romance.
When I was twenty-two my favorite book was a 1968 edition of Teach Yourself Latvian and a Latvian English dictionary because I was living in a country where very few people at the time spoke English and no other Latvian language programs or books were available.
When I was twenty-three my favorite book was The Brothers K because I was living with my parents between stints in Latvia, and something about the paper mill town the family lives in, something about the love and craziness of the mom, something about all of it made me feel like in some weird way it was about my (all girl, non-baseball aware) family. One scene made me cry as hard as any book ever has.
When I was twenty-four my favorite book was The Left Hand of Darkness because it was one of the 10 paperbacks I'd snagged at Powell's for $20 to bring with me to Peace Corps. I chose longer and more complicated works (and used, obviously) because I knew I wouldn't get much else to read. I will always love this story of a planet where gender only exists a few days each month, and is completely fluid. I will also always love the snowy adventure love story at its heart.
When I was twenty-five my favorite book was The Exiled Heart because it was a scandal and sensation in Latvia, detailing as it did the long affair between one of the country's most beloved (married!) composer/songwriters and an American woman. I loved it for her outsiders' view of Soviet Latvia.
When I was twenty-six my favorite book was Beyond Culture because we read it as part of my MAT, and it was fascinating despite the dated, male-centered language.
When I was twenty-seven my favorite book was Winterdance because when I finally agreed to read this silly sled dog book my dad kept pushing at me, I was absolutely entranced and heart-broken by it. And I had no idea this guy was "The Steinbeck of Kid Lit," as my mentor teacher called him, yet either.
When I was twenty-eight my favorite book was Stones from the River because although I kept insisting that I didn't want to read the "Dwarf vs. Nazi book" as I so sensitively thought of it, once my sister forced me to, I loved it.
When I was twenty-nine my favorite book was Bridget Jone's Diary because it was funny and relatable and a Pride and Prejudice retelling at at time when that was a new concept.
When I was thirty my favorite book was Hiking the Columbia River Gorge because I'd settled back in Oregon and got pretty seriously into hiking and climbing for several years. I was thrilled to get this book as a gift from my parents, back before the internet became useful.
When I was thirty-one my favorite book was Nightjohn because it was the first read-aloud I did with a class that had a visible impact on my students. I also loved that although it's a "slavery story" the focus was on resistance and on the power of education. Plus there's a scene where a toe gets chopped off, and that is ALWAYS a moment of 100% horrified focus in the classroom.
When I was thirty-two my favorite book was How to Cook Everything because this wedding gift truly seemed to have everything I wanted to cook that I wasn't already familiar with, and I enjoyed both the author's voice and the recipes' clarity.
When I was thirty-three my favorite book was The Woman Who Walked into Doors because after discovering Roddie Doyle's genius through the film adaptation of The Commitments, I'd read his other books with joy. Then I got an audibook (literally book on tape!) of this one and listening to it read in an Irish accent made me laugh and cry. The scenes I remember most vividly speak to how schools treat children who are seen as "less than," and the scenes that helped me understand why a woman would stay with an abuser.
When I was thirty-four my favorite book was The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down because my friend Carla, working with Hmong kids in Minneapolis public schools, recommended it to me, and it was fascinating.
When I was thirty-five my favorite book was 'Tis because there's nobody like Frank McCourt for taking a tragic tale of desperate scrambling against fate, poverty, and alcoholism and spinning a delightful yarn out of it somehow.
When I was thirty-six my favorite book was The Grapes of Wrath because I picked it up at the English Language Library in Riga, where we lived for a year, and was blown away from page one. I'm so glad I wasn't forced to read it in high school, when I would have hated it.
When I was thirty-seven my favorite book was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because it was the end of an era, and we were all experiencing it together. I borrowed it from my friend Kristi a few days after she'd gotten it and raced through it, and my niece and I were reading separate copies side by side on our family visit to Mt. Hood.
When I was thirty-eight my favorite book was A Pattern Language because we were thinking about building a home (it never happened) and I was obsessed with books on the topic. This one, unwieldy and dated though it was, blew my mind, and I actually paid over $60 for a used copy of my own.
When I was thirty-nine my favorite book was Rocket Boys because my sister talked me into reading it, but I didn't expect to find it as beautiful, heart warming, inspiring, funny, tragic, and well written as it is.
When I was forty my favorite book was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay because the book club I was in for a few years chose it, I wasn't sure if I'd like it, but it is wonderful.
When I was forty-one my favorite book was Graceling because I was just starting to realize the gorgeous bounty that was 21st century YA fantasy, and this blew my socks off.
When I was forty-two my favorite book was Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child because of obvious reasons, like we'd just adopted two kids from Lithuania and had no idea what we were doing. In completely related news, I pretty much didn't read any fiction that year.
When I was forty-three my favorite book was The Knife of Never Letting Go because oh my word, the YA boom also included science fiction, and this Patrick Ness guy was wildly creative in his formatting, brave in his narrative choices, and thought-provoking in his themes.
When I was forty-four my favorite book was The Likeness because Tana French is straight up crazy in her creative psychological twisty mysteries. I'd been counting on Reginald Hill and Elizabeth George for years, but French was the first in a new group of authors I've discovered (Sophie Hannah, Jane Casey, Nikki French, "Robert Galbraith") who write the same calibre of character driven mystery/thriller series.
When I was forty-five my favorite book was Eleanor and Park because it's a sweet, sweet love story set in my teen years, full of emotion and empathy.
When I was forty-six my favorite book was How It Went Down because in my first ever round of judging for CYBILS, this multiple point of view story of race and violence in the US was a clear winner in my eyes.
When I was forty-seven my favorite book was A Darker Shade of Magic because it's Victoria Schwab, and I want that coat. Though a strong case could be made for Six of Crows because it's Leigh Bardugo, and I have never loved a heist gang like I love the Crows.
When I was forty-eight my favorite book was The 57 Bus because Slater brings a poet's soul and a journalist's eye for detail to this true story.
In my last weeks of being forty-nine my favorite book is Internment because it's a) #ownvoices, b) ripped-from-the-headlines, five-minutes-in-the-future storytelling that's, c) full of characters I care about and d) not completely hopeless, which it kind of could be.