Everything you need to know about a person.

Everything you need to know about a person.

I want to talk a little more about The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel, which I mentioned in the twitterature post about my summer reading hits and misses so far.

It’s good fun for book lovers, but be warned: this book can explode your to-be-read list. At the beginning of each chapter, the narrator recommends a book—or sometime, a short story—to his daughter, describing what it’s about and why she’ll enjoy it. (He’s a bookseller: he can’t help himself.)

I can’t resist a book recommendation. Not even a fictional one.

(I promptly found a copy of The Stories of Richard Bausch so I could read “What Feels Like the World.” Other additions to my list include Fitzgerald, Dahl, Twain, Grace Paley, Irwin Shaw, and Raymond Carver. This fictional Mr. Fikry was one well-read guy.)

In the introduction to chapter 5, Fikry describes Flannery O’Connor’s 1953 short story A Good Man is Hard to Find and its important to a significant relationship.

You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book? | Modern Mrs Darcy

He introduces it like this:

….When she told me it was her favorite, it suggested to me strange and wonderful things about her character that I had not guessed, dark places that I might like to visit.

People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book? 

I would just as soon pick a favorite child as pick a favorite book, but when pressed, I usually fall back on Brideshead Revisited. It’s wistful and haunting, hopeful and reverent. It doesn’t have a happy ending, and it’s deeply ambiguous.

On different days, I might cite Crossing to Safety or Persuasion or even Anne of Green Gables. But most days, it’s Brideshead.

What would you say to that, Mr. A. J. Fikry?

What’s your favorite book, and what does that say about you? (If you think he is completely and totally wrong, tell us about that, too.)

P.S. 5 books that make me feel like I’m not crazy, and 7 books that changed my life.

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91 comments

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  1. Anna says:

    My favorite is Emily of New Moon because in it I found myself almost perfectly described in literature and I’ve felt less lonely ever since. My second favorite is Hannah Coulter.

  2. Ana says:

    I couldn’t choose just one favorite book either, but two of them would be Anne of Green Gables and Gone With the Wind. Which have heroines (and plot lines) pretty much opposite of each other in every way–I’m not sure what that says about me, lol!

    • Ana says:

      I was going to leave the exact same comment. Both Anne and Scarlett were role models in my teen years, for very different reasons. Sometimes you need a little whimsy in your life, other times you need to be tough as nails.

  3. Beth says:

    If pressed I’d usually say A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, but I read Unbroken a couple months back and haven’t stopped recommending it whenever I get the chance. As tentative as I am to declare a favorite, Unbroken just might have that top spot for me.

  4. Non-fiction: A Song for Nagasaki
    Fiction: The Great Divorce or The Silver Chair, both by CS Lewis
    Honorable mention: Anne of the Island

    And yes, I think a person would understand me a lot better if he or she read these books knowing that they are my favorites. 🙂

  5. Jeannie says:

    My favourite book of all time is Little Women. I suppose what that shows about me is the priority I place on family and on writing, and how I see life as a journey (like Pilgrim’s Progress, the book all 4 March girls receive for Christmas) in which God guides us to maturity and helps us face and manage our weaknesses.

  6. Rachel says:

    I usually think my favorite is Peace Like a River (Leif Enger). I love everything about it–the characters are fantastic and so lovable, it’s got humor even amid heavy subject matter, the family’s relationships are so inspiring and wonderful, and the writing is simple but lovely.

  7. Kara Fleck says:

    Oh, this is a hard one. I will say that one of my favorites, which sounds a bit like the book you mentioned only it is a true story, is Helene Hanff’s Q’s Legacy, which is sort of like the back story to 84 Charing Cross road. I reread it every few years and always get new book recommendations, though some of the titles are pretty ambitious.

  8. Scott says:

    When I read The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr. several years ago, I absolutely loved it. I had wanted to try to write a fantasy book for a while, but it seemed too daunting. After I read it though, I thought, “I can do this” and I started writing a YA fantasy that I had been kicking around for a while. (And, actually, I just signed the publishing contract for that book this week!)

    I do agree that you can tell a lot about people from their favorite books. It kind of shows you a glimpse into a person’s soul – what stirs or moves him, what secret dreams she may have. Very cool to think about.

  9. Katie Mc. says:

    Brideshead would be my favourite, too! Each time I read it I get more and more out of it. I find it interesting that you don’t think it has a happy ending, though. To me, Charles’ redemption / acceptance of grace is filled with hope and makes the ending actually very uplifting.

  10. Jennifer says:

    “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury. I reread this book every summer. Each word is delicious…it reads almost like poetry. Sad, happy, nostalgic. The best Bildungsroman I’ve ever read.

  11. Amy says:

    I don’t know that I completely agree, because I read across such a variety of genres, I don’t feel like a single book could ever convey everything there is to know about me, as a reader or a person. (It was really hard for me even to narrow my list of favorites down to three for your literary matchmaking!) But if I had to pick just one, it would probably be The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

    • Dawn says:

      It will surely change in the future, but right now I’d tell people my favorite is Bel Canto. It’s just so richly written with characters worth remembering. I was so attached to everyone and therefore dreaded the ending. A sparkling encapsulation of suspense, romance, music appreciation, cross-cultural barriers and social politics.

  12. Abby says:

    I can never narrow it down to just a few! But the one book I always re-read when I can find it at the library is, “The Housekeeper and The Professor” by Yoko Ogawa. And I have a few at home that I love to re-read “Julie” by Catherine Marshall is probably the one I pick up the most often.

  13. Kristin says:

    How do you pick one? I am adding some books from the comments to my reading list. If I had to pick one it might be Coming Home by Rosamude Pilcher. WW 1 England historical fiction gets me every time.

  14. Andrea says:

    So hard. For years I have said Pride and Prejudice, but I think it has changed to Wuthering Heights. It is followed closely by Frankenstein though. I suppose that says that I like England ans tortured souls.
    And non-fiction is Death of the Modern Superhero, which is about grace, because I love grace.

  15. Tim says:

    I think his question of a person’s favorite book is a great way to get some insight. it doesn’t tell me all I need to know, so he’s wrong there, but it tells me a lot, particularly as it leads to discussion of why it’s a favored book. Those are great friendship discussion.

    My own favorite – and please don’t think I’m copping out! – is the Bible. The richness of some of its prose is astounding, and the truth contained in its pages is breathtaking.

    For non-Scripture, though, I’ll go with a few books: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Austen’s Persuasion, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, McClintock’s A Fly Went By.

    • Karlyne says:

      A Fly Went By? I hate to admit that there might, just possibly, be a book I haven’t heard of, but… that’s not ringing any kind of bells, Tim!

      (Persuasion is probably my #1, by the way)

      • Tim says:

        It’s Mike McClintock’s children’s book from 1958, and has some of the best storytelling and illustrations of any I’ve ever read. I can’t help but smile every time I read the opening lines:

        I sat by the lake.
        I looked at the sky,
        And as I looked,
        A fly went by.

        What happens when the boy follows the fly is an adventure every kid wishes she or he had. Not only that, but for the literary types among us you can rest easy since the book is Aristotelian in its story structure. (No joke.) I given this one away many times.

        • Karlyne says:

          I think my daughter read this at story time a while back! (She’s the children’s librarian at our teensy weensy library). I was thinking in terms of adult flies, I guess, so that’s why I couldn’t place it. My reputation, at least with myself, is intact…

        • Anne says:

          Can you believe it, I didn’t read this book until I had kids. My own children’s childhoods won’t be as deprived as mine was. 🙂

          • Karlyne says:

            And in the realm of weird coincidences: as I picked up the kids from story time today, I saw in the pile of recently returned books, yep, you guessed it, “A Fly Went By”.

  16. This is such a hard one! I agree with Amy, thought– I like so many different books that I don’t think any one of them would give someone a full enough description of me. Here are several, however, which top my list of favorites EVER:

    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott– I identify with all four sisters to one extent or another, I love the various romances and friendships, and how different struggles help the girls grow and mature.

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen– um, same as above. haha. Except I can’t really identify with Lydia or Mary. 🙂

    At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. The whole Mitford series, actually, are among my favorites, but this, the first in the series, is perfectly representative of the series as a whole. It makes me laugh and cry and think about serious things, it brings me into the little town of Mitford, and it gave me a whole new family–people I can vividly imagine and relate to.

    Little House in the Big Woods and the rest of the Little House series. I can’t pick a favorite of these! And I love them for so many reasons: the beautiful family relationships, the strong faith and courage demonstrated by Laura and her family and friends, the example of a simpler way of life characterized by hard work and frugality, the amazing descriptions of lots of good food, the humor and other emotions… Definitely books I’ll be reading to my children someday.

    I also LOVE the entire “Narnia” series, the Harry Potter books, “A Little Princess,” “Heidi,” “Les Miserables” (even though it took me nearly a year to finish), everything by Francine Rivers I’ve read so far, and more. A lot of books have stuck with me since I read them when I was younger: “The View from Saturday” by E. L. Konigsburg, “Faraway Summer” (author??), “The Giver” and “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Lily’s Crossing” by Patricia Reilly Giff, and so many more. haha.

    It’s interesting you mentioned “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” I read that in a literature class my freshman year of college, and the same semester played the part of the Mother in a readers-theater version. We didn’t mess with the text at all: a narrator read the narrator’s part, and each character spoke their own lines. The costumes, movements, set, etc. were all taken straight from the story (although we had a very simplified set, no actual cars or anything). It was a pretty awesome experience, although very emotionally draining!

  17. Bekah says:

    Oh wow. Tough question, until I stop thinking about it and go with my gut reply, which is “Till We Have Faces,” by C.S. Lewis. Achingly haunting, and always lifts my eyes up to where they need to be.

  18. Steph J says:

    It looks like I have some company–I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite book, even when pressed. Every time I think of an answer, I think of a reason that even though I adore a book, I wouldn’t want someone to “know” me on the basis of it being my favorite. The idea from this post isn’t new to me, I’ve struggled with this for long time–not being able to name a favorite (well..anything) because I feel like whatever a person thinks about what my choice says about me,would be wrong. Does that make sense? On the other hand, I think a person can learn a lot about me just by knowing that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite! (Like the fact that I’m a person who worries way too much what other people think. 🙂 )

  19. sara says:

    I don’t know that Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being are my absolute favorites, but these are definitely the ones I read again and again.

  20. sarah k says:

    Picking a favorite is hard indeed…I’m sitting here gazing at my bookshelf, torn between Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers and the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset. I think that says that I am drawn to strong, independent female characters who face life head-on, looking into the darkness and wrestling with their own flaws and with what love and equality in relationships mean. If pressed, I would probably pick Gaudy Night, as it is my favorite love story and the erudite conversation is endlessly inspiring.

    • Louise says:

      Sarah, I was coming on here to say Gaudy Night as well! It’s nearly impossible to choose just one, but that’s always the very first book that comes to mind when someone asks me my favorite, which has to mean something. Oh Harriet, Harriet!

  21. Stephanie says:

    I also hate to pick, but Anna Karenina is always in the running for Favorite All-Time Read for me.

    I’ve been meaning to read Brideshead Revisited… Your recommendation has leapfrogged it to the top of my list. Thanks!

  22. Kristen says:

    I tend to agree. Favorite books (I really don’t know how anyone could pick just one!) can say a lot about a person…I love hearing book recommendations from other people because it gives me a small glimpse into what intrigues or inspires them. My all-time favorites include the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers. I love a good saga because it makes the process of reading the story last so much longer! I’m always a little sad when I finish a good book.

    Recently read favorites include the Maisie Dobbs series by Jaqueline Winspear and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I appreciate your book recommendations, I have found so many great books because of you!

  23. Trudi says:

    I have so many books that I love and have read many times, but Great Expectations has been my favorite book since I re-read it the week after high school graduation. I’ve read it several times since just to make sure, and every time I love it. Not sure what that says about me since so many people dislike this book…

    • Anne says:

      I’ve only read it once (post-college, because I wanted to, and I was pleasantly surprised because I foolishly thought it would be boring). This makes me want to read it again. 🙂

  24. I think your answer to that question does say a lot about you, even if the answer is, “I can’t pick just one!” Another great and telling question is this: What have you re-read more than once? I think that says a lot. My top picks (for both favorites and re-reads) are always Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I also love and have repeatedly read the Anne series, the Harry Potter series, and the Little House series. C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy is up there. To Kill A Mockingbird I’ve read a half dozen times and for the past three years I’ve read A Christmas Carol every December.

    What does this say about me? I think it shows that I adore a story with great friendships and great parents or parent figures. I love something that makes me love God more or that challenges my faith. I like a good romance that starts as a friendship. Nostalgia is good in a book. And I absolutely love strong writing.

    • Anne says:

      “I think your answer to that question does say a lot about you, even if the answer is, “I can’t pick just one!” Another great and telling question is this: What have you re-read more than once?”

      Yes and yes!

  25. Molly says:

    At this point (and for a long time now) I would have to say my favorite books are those in the Harry Potter series. Some I like more than others, but I have a deep admiration for JK Rowling’s work. Her ability to describe in such detail that I can see the Great Hall and taste the foods at the feast are amazing. I love that the hero is fallible and needs support from his friends. I love that Hermione is such an intelligent, strong, witty character and a role model for girls. I love that Ron is so much like me (klutzy and often has his foot in his mouth) and that even though his faith is weak at times he stays loyal in the face of adversity. Rowling’s imagination and knowledge of various mythologies and her ability to weave them all so seamlessly…well I could go on and on. There is a reason this series’s popularity took off like wild fire though.

    Just as many others cannot pick one favorite book, neither can I. I love Pride and Prejudice and most of Austen’s other works. I enjoyed L’Engle’s Crosswick Journals. And every couple or few years I reread The Alienist by Caleb Carr-creepy and dark, but a major score for the underdogs too.

  26. Charlotte says:

    Oo, I love this question. My favorite book–if absolutely forced to pick one–would have to be East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I love the soul-searching in this book. Every time I read it I finish it a different person from when I started. Every time. In fact, it’s been about three years since I last read it, and I may be starting to feel pulled back to it. Again.

  27. Katherine says:

    Ha, ha I dated a guy whose favorite piece of literature was “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and you know that just might have told me all I needed to know to judge that that relationship wasn’t going to work. His intricate intellectual beauty wasn’t enough to offset the darkness. His second favorite work was A Farewell to Arms. In contrast my favorites are Chronicles of Narnia and Till we Have Faces.

      • Katherine S. says:

        Yeah, in retrospect, I can better see what he loved about O’Connor, but as someone who is super sensitive to violence, it was harder for me to appreciate his attraction to salvific encounters with evil. But yeah, he had me read the Hemingway to get to know him better. That was a nightmare from beginning to end. HATED that book. If ever there was a book that I should have given myself permission to stop reading as an adult that was it 😛

  28. Heather says:

    I used that question as a litmus test with guys in college. (What can I say? I was an English major!) I once asked a guy I was interested in what his favorite book was and he said it was probably The Indian in the Cupboard. I was puzzled and asked why — he explained it was because it was the last book he’d read on his own…in seventh grade. I knew then it wouldn’t really work between us. 😉 Incidentally, I asked another guy the same question and, without hesitation, he said, “Moby Dick.” My interest was piqued. We were married the next year.

    Oh, and my favorite is a toss-up between To Kill a Mockingbird and Jane Eyre.

  29. Laura says:

    Probably Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith, though Possession (A. S. Byatt) and Handling Sin (Michael Malone) are right up there.

    I’ve read all three of these numerous times, and that is not something I can say about many books. Fair and Tender Ladies, though, I return to frequently because Ivy Rowe has become a friend, quite a dear friend who always has something more to show me.

  30. Anne says:

    I never know what to say is my favorite. I usually default to the Anne series (Anne’s House of Dreams was very precious to me after the birth of my second child. Nice memories from rereading!) If I look at what books I’ve reread, the list would look like this: Anne, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, and The Well-Trained Mind. (I have read that Alcott called LW ‘moralist pap,’ which kills me.)

  31. Brandi S says:

    I have SUCH a hard time picking favorites. I usually end up saying A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, pivotal, and kind of dark, coming of age story. But I’m not sure I would be who I am today without the Harry Potter and Little House series. Oh and A Wrinkle in Time, which kind of got me interested in fantasy/sci-fi.

    I have no idea what any of that says about me. 🙂

  32. Sloan says:

    My favorite book is either Anne of Green Gables or Harry Potter.

    On another note, one of the 3 other girls I’m in book club with gave To Kill a Mockingbird 2 stars on Goodreads, which I found the other day. I may need a new book club.

  33. Laura says:

    I love that you love Brideshead Revisited! It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, also, but BR is one of the few that I’ve given five stars to. 😉 Last time I read it, I was by myself, on a long subway ride. Tears started running down my face as I reached the ending. Fortunately it was a weekend, and the train wasn’t crowded.

  34. I laughed like crazy when I read the title of this blog. I am infamous for asking this question of potential employees in an interview! My office manager asked me to stop asking it, because she said it was too intimidating a question (and I once refused to hire a perfectly qualified candidate because she said her favorite book of all time was “memoirs of a geisha”), I think its the perfect question to really get some insight into a someone’s personality!

    BTW: My favorites are Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind and The Time Travelers Wife.

    • Karlyne says:

      I was asked who my favorite author was in an interview once, and when I said, “Jane Austen”, the interviewer (who became my boss) just looked at me blankly. It didn’t start a conversation…

  35. Amanda says:

    I can’t answer the “favorite” question in good faith, because I think my list of most beloved titles reorders itself depending on whatever’s going on in my life at the time. I wanted to say I loved the “Good Man…” reference! I’m a HUGE fan of Flannery O’Connor and did my honors English project in high school on that, and then focused on her work again in college. So good.

  36. I still think my favorite book of all time is Charlotte’s Web, but if I want to sound smart I will say One Hundred Years of Solitude – which IS a favorite, but maybe not my absolute favorite. I think Charlotte’s Web says I am fun, simple, and a child at heart.

  37. Andi says:

    I would disagree with his statement. I think it depends entirely on the person. For instance, I know two people who would answer “Crime and Punishment” as the favorite. One, loves the descent into a crazy mind. The other is unfortunately highly unsure of herself and thinks it makes her sound smart and deep. One of my best friends is an incredibly accomplished doctor with an amazing mind. She loves romance novels because they provide a way for her mind to decompress. So, I think it can tell you something about a person, but definitely not everything about a person.
    For me… I can’t figure out a favorite. I such a moody reader!!

  38. Katie says:

    Just like basically everyone else commenting, I have such a hard time picking a favorite book! I might even have trouble choosing five favorites. But I do know some of the books that would be right at the top, vying for position. One is definitely Peace Like A River. Another is definitely Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps Harry Potter (as a collection). Probably at least one Dickens and Austen, too. Maybe Bleak House and Emma. And surely The Chronicles of Narnia.

    I just don’t know!!

  39. Sara K. says:

    As Danielle said in Ever After, “I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens.”

    I love so many books I don’t know how to choose just one! Or even just one that I think says something about me! I think maybe I just haven’t discovered the book that is “me” just yet. I’m on the road to discovery 🙂

  40. Anna says:

    I can’t pick one book, or even narrow it down to a few. I have some favorite authors in different areas, depending on my mood or what I’m into that day.

  41. Jill says:

    A favorite? Is that possible? I remember wondering why I HAD to pick a favorite color in kindergarten. I liked them all, didn’t everyone? The same thought occurred when I was asked my favorite number or best friend. 🙂 We mortals are silly pigeon-holing creatures who seem to crave finality and analysis for everyone but ourselves.

    I love books and am frequently discovering new favorites. I’m re-reading At the Little Brown House by Ruth Alberta Brown with my 8-year-old daughter and have set the audiobook for Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll performed by Jim Dale on my sons CD player. I adore Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary but if pressed The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (the audiobook with narration by David Hyde Pierce) is a perennial listen. I learn something new from it each time we read or listen to it. And good heavens, we laugh and laugh. I love a book that leaves me laughing with its cleverness.
    In the Austen realm, I love Persuasion, except a recent re-listening to P&P had me amazed at the subtle good and poor advice and the outcomes of following each. Little Women is wonderful for teaching about weaknesses, strengths, forgiveness, improvement withholding judgment and fun. Blast. I stink at this favorite thing.

  42. Jill says:

    p.s. I have to include The Great Brain and More Adventures of The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald. My daughters might disown me for not mentioning it. 😉

  43. Debbie says:

    I think a person who reads is generally more often than not a kindred spirit! However, WHAT they read can make the more or less true!!!

    Two books that really impacted me growing up were, “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” and “That Was Then, This Is Now.” However, since then, I’ve read so many wonderful books it is extremely hard to pick just one. I must say that the last book series that captured me hook, line and sinker (books I read every free moment, and when done with the one, had to run out right then and buy the next, and the next, and the next) are Liz Curtis Higgs books entitled:
    Thorn In My Heart
    Fair Is The Rose
    Whence Came A Prince
    Grace In Thine Eyes

    Story loosely based on Bible characters Jacob, Leah and Rachel, but based in 1700’s Scotland! Extremely well written and thoroughly captivating! It took me a few chapters to really get pulled in, but once I was, it was deep and it was broad and it was all consuming! Highly recommend!!!

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