Playing Favorites

Recently I was chatting with someone on Twitter about our different tastes in romance fiction, and she asked me what my all time favorite romances are. And . . . I choked. I’m not sure I have favorite romances. Here’s why:

  • How can you play favorites?!?!

Of course I like some books better than others, but I find compiling a short list to be like picking a favorite child. Someone will feel hurt and left out! But what about …? My favorite Austen novel is Pride and Prejudice. No wait, it’s Persuasion! Can it be a six-way tie? 

I find it easier to list favorite types of books: I like comedy more than romangst, for instance. A romance should give you pangs and thrills, but I like them leavened with laughs. Favorite trope? Marriage of convenience or some other forced teamwork. Favorite authors, sure (although if you limited me to five or even ten I’d be in trouble).

  • “All Time” is short, for me

I’ve always loved reading love stories. I discovered Austen in high school, and went on from there to writers like Jane Aiken Hodge (she was right next to her sister, Joan Aiken, a childhood favorite, on the library shelf) and Georgette Heyer. Not to mention all kinds of other books with romances in them.

But I didn’t venture (much) into genre romance until sometime in 2009. My husband gave me an e-reader for Christmas 2008. I thought, “what will I do with this thing?” and downloaded some free Victorian novels I’d always meant to read but that are hard to get ahold of. Then it occurred to me that I could buy a romance without being embarrassed. Yes, I was one of those readers. A mommy hiding her naughty book habit on her Kindle–well, Sony. I’m over that now. 

But because I haven’t been reading romance regularly for very long, I think my tastes are still developing. For me, time is key to favorites. I’m not sure that I’d still love some of my early romance reads if I read them now. (For instance, Catherine Coulter, whom I read in my pre-Sony days? No. Lisa Kleypas? Maybe.)

  • It has to be a re-read

This is linked to “I haven’t been reading romance that long.” For me, favorite books are by definition those that stand up to repeated re-reading. If I had to list my top ten favorites ever (notice I’m not doing it) some children’s books would make the list (Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula LeGuin, Diana Wynne Jones), along with some Austen and Heyer, Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank, A.S. Byatt’s Possession and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Maybe White Teeth by Zadie Smith. (OMG, there is not a single male author on that list. I’d probably stick in Bleak House if there were room). Some are “great literature” and some aren’t, but they’re all books I’ve re-read with undiminished–indeed, increased–pleasure over many years. 

I don’t re-read romance much. Oh, I mean to. But I discovered book blogs around the same time I discovered romance-reading, and now there are always more more MORE books to read. I had that problem before, but it’s astronomically bigger now. The ease of buying e-books means my TBR pile scares me. I feel guilty if I re-read.

So I think that I don’t give romances a fair shot at becoming “all time favorites.” I know I’ve read some that have the potential to be. What I need is a “To Re-Read” list, so that those poor books get a shot at my true, lasting love.

I might post a follow-up with lists of various favorites and re-read candidates. I’d love to hear your favorites, and also what it takes for a book to make the list.

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16 Responses to Playing Favorites

  1. Since I don’t like re-reading books, it’s easier for me to pick my all-time favorites because they are those I read over and over again. Blue-Eyed Devil, Carnal Innocence, Shades of Twilight, those are some of the books that instantly come to mind when I think of favorites. They may not be the best the genre has to offer, they may not even be the best their authors have to offer, but I love them. A favorite is a book that makes me wish I could forget about it so I could read it for the first time again.

    Favorite authors are those that make me feel like I’m waiting to open a great present every time they publish a new book. Those that provoke the anxiety that comes from needing something so bad you can’t concentrate on anything else. When an author makes me feel this way before release day, it means they are a favorite. A funny thing, my favorite author in the world is Meljean Brook, yet I have only re-read one of her books.

  2. Jorrie Spencer says:

    My all-time favorite may be The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale. I felt so much emotion during this book, and its reread, and the writing is very accomplished. (But I think we’ve discussed Kinsale, and you’re not sure about her.)

    I did love Welcome to Temptation. And for a five-book mystery-series romance, Adrien English by Josh Lanyon is right up there. But I’m not sure that counts 😉

  3. Jorrie Spencer says:

    Er, Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie, I meant to write.

  4. sonomalass says:

    Yay, a kindred spirit!

    I rarely reread romance, although the books I do reread often have strong romantic elements. Everything by Guy Gavriel Kay is on that list, along with Pavane by Keith Roberts, The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Like you, I’ve relatively recently returned to genre romance, and the only time I reread is when I’m writing a review or looking for a reference and I get caught up. Of course, I can also pick up any Terry Pratchett book and have a good rereading experience, and the same with MZB’s Darkover books — favorite series that I love to revisit.

    If I expand the list to include children’s books, I have to add the Oz series, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit — those are children’s books to me, because that’s when I read them.

    I am terrible at picking favorites; I have been told by many experts that I am not a “hierarchical thinker.” Which is good and bad, depending on context; it’s terrible when I’m expected to rank things.

    But Persuasion is definitely my favorite Austen novel, unless I’m in the mood for Pride & Prejudice….

    • mezzak says:

      We are reading twins! I have to get rid of around 1200 books and the 30+ MZB books have switched piles several times. I was rapt to share Pavane with my niece this year. I re-read faves and that is my definition of a keeper and favourite book. The clean out has been an interesting test because it was so easy to take romance books to the out box but also re-reading and finding that I wasn’t moved by books I had held into for so long. So a favourite book I think has to be actively readable .it just fondly remembered

      • mezzak says:

        I hate commenting from phone and I doublehate autocorrect the last line should be ‘not just fondly remembered’ Also MezzaK = Merrian I used to be shy but WordPress won’t let me update

      • sonomalass says:

        My MZB collection has its own shelf (which does not include Mists, over on the family keeper shelf). Darkover is non-negotiable for me! I have these three big boxes of romance ready to go to the friends of the library as a donation, and yet I keep pulling books back out thinking that I can’t quite let that go yet. Work in progress, this weeding thing.

  5. VacuousMinx says:

    Oh yay! Like SonomaLass and you, I hate picking favorites. Reading is so mood- and time- and context-dependent, it’s hard for me to say one is the BEST EVAH. Or even a top 5. I’ve reread Dick Francis and Simon Brett more than Reginald Hill or Ian Rankin, but because they’re easier and less demanding mentally. In romance, I reread everything from Anne Stuart to Mary Burchell to Marion Chesney to Mary Balogh. Georgette Heyer the most over the years, it goes without saying. In SFF it’s probably Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash multiple times, Cryptonomicon twice). And Gaiman’s American Gods and Neverwhere.

    Classics? Persuasion. The Golden Bowl. Portrait of a Lady. The Palliser and Barsetshire novels. General Fiction: Dumas. Sabatini. James Hilton. Somerset Maugham. Sinclair Lewis. All multiple rereads of multiple books. All the Anne of Green Gables through House of Dreams. The Raj Quartet.

    A book I can’t bring myself to reread but also can’t forget is Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Don’t be put off by the fact that it was an Oprah pick. It’s brilliant and painful and funny.

    Eh, maybe I do have some favorites.

  6. Becky says:

    I can talk about my favorite books all day, but an actual finite list? It just doesn’t happen. Something always gets left out. (I once wrote a blog post about my top 5 Crusie novels, and then put like 7 on the list.)

    I was *such* an LM Montgomery fan as a kid, but even more than the Anne of Green Gables books, I loved The Blue Castle. I’ve probably read it at least once a year for the last 25 years. The other childhood favorite that I still pull out every once in a while is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. My first, and probably still favorite, Crusie is What the Lady Wants, but Getting Rid of Bradley and Bet Me are right up there, too. And Crazy For You. And Charlie All Night. Agnes and the Hitman, Anyone But You, Fast Women, Faking It. Oh, hell. Just mark down Crusie.

    Lois McMaster Bujold- I’m absolutely obsessed with Miles. (The most recent book was meh, but I’ve loved and reread the rest of the series multiple times. Grover Gardner does an excellent job with the audiobooks.) Speaking of audiobooks, I enjoyed reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, but the audio version read by the author is an absolute scream. More often than not, listening to an author read their own book is like watching paint dry, but he does a really good job. Neil Gaiman’s voice is a dream, too.

    Elizabeth Young made me want to try my hand at writing chick lit. (It was a disaster, but then so was The Wedding Date- the movie that was made from her book Asking For Trouble.) The first three books in the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn are regular rereads for me. Hot Target by Suzanne Brockmann- the book where Jules and Robin meet- is definitely on my favorites list. The Adrien English series by Josh Lanyon. That one line toward the end of the 5th book (if you’ve read it you’ll know which one I mean) kills me every time. Marie Sexton’s Promises and Strawberries For Dessert have seen a few rereads, too.

    Sadly, Cindy Holbrook stopped publishing 10 or 15 years ago, but A Rake’s Reform and Lord Sayer’s Ghost will always be favorites. And Mistress by Amanda Quick. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen helped me, and a lot of my friends, through some difficult times. Amy Lane’s full length stories tend to reduce me to a useless ball of tears and snot, but her holiday novellas have become comfort reads for me.

    So, um Yeah. A lot of favorites. The only way I could ever make a proper list is if you let me make it a Top 100 and then didn’t get too fussy about putting them in order.

    • Jorrie Spencer says:

      You’ve reminded me that when I read Hot Target, I turned around and started the book from the beginning again. And I never do that with books, including books I love. But I found the Jules/Robin storyline very compelling.

  7. Ros says:

    If I’m excluding Heyer and Austen, because otherwise this is pointless, my favourites include Flowers from the Storm, Mr Impossible and Miss Wonderful. Also Red Hot Renegade, Wife for A Week (one of the funniest category romances I’ve ever read), One Night Nine Month Scandal, Bella’s Disgrace and The Shy Bride. And a ton that don’t spring to mind right now.

    • John J. says:

      Oh, I totally forgot Sarah Morgan! Hands down – favorite category author for me. One Night…Nine Month Scandal was great, and I still grin like a maniac remembering parts of that book.

      • Ros says:

        The teddy bear scene? That’s the one that always has me laughing and crying at the same time.

  8. Liz Mc2 says:

    Thanks everyone. I am loving these comments! It’s good to know I am not alone in my favorites problem. You’re all naming some books I either love or want to try.

    Brie, I agree that a favorite author may not write any favorite books. That’s an author who delivers consistent enjoyment but maybe not a single standout book (for me, Amanda Quick in all her guises would be an example. I always enjoy her, and she’s a comfort (re)listen on audio, but I can’t say there’s one book by her that would make a favorites list, especially as she’s written so many and they kind of blend together). And “favorite” is definitely not always the same as “best.” It’s more like “best for ME.”

  9. John J. says:

    Sigh. I always hate that dreaded question. “What is your favorite book?” It’s easy when you’re talking to someone that is the type to give a definitive one-or-two book answer (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but when you’re like me….heh, not so much.

    I’m still a youngster by reading standards – romance especially – so my favorites are relative to genre. I love a lot of what I read, but a lot of it is because of the way I pick what I’m going to read next. And the amount of escapism I use it for. However, I usually judge a favorite by if I want to reread it someday later in life. There are books that I definitely aim to do that with. There are “classics” like Gone with the Wind, Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, Our Town (the play – a gorgeous, gorgeous play) and To Kill a Mockingbird (which I’ve already reread once).

    Then there are the ones I consider *my* modern classics/favorites – Howl’s Moving Castle, Twilight (I do want to reread it to see if the magic is still there), Whitney My Love, So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane, Memoirs of a Geisha… Books that just enraptured me and took me to places that I never thought I could go before.

    I just struggle with it. It’s hard to pick true favorites when so much of being a favorite relies on whether or not the book will stick with you as you move through different stages of life. The lifetime favorites are the books that resonate with you no matter your age or life experience, and those books are very hard to pin down when we have so much of life left to experience.

  10. Kaetrin says:

    I’m with you Liz – it’s too hard to pick favourites. I have 2 favourite Mary Balogh books for example so I can’t even pick myfavourite from 1 author! 🙂

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