I’m going to be really quite glad when this “favourite” slew of topics is done, because I am a fully rounded human being, and have trouble with this sort of pick-one nonsense.
On the bright side, though, I am not a well-read man. Oh, I’ve read a lot of books, but I’m not well read. I’ve read vast piles of nerdy crap, and an awful lot of non-fiction, but I’ve ready very little serious or weighty literature. I have a go at things like Ulysses and Infinite Jest about once a year, and give up on them, and I’ve read fuck all Dickens, very little Shakespeare, and generally my attitude to 90% of everything published pre- about 1960 can be summed as “only relevant in as much as it informs more contemporary works”. Which to be clear, is not to say that they’re unimportant or bad, just that my personal tastes mean I prioritise reading more recently published stuff. Nor am I holding up being thinly-read as a good thing. I would dearly love the time and attention span to be better read. The only reason that it’s a bright side is that if I were better read, it would be even harder to chose.
As it is, there are strong contenders in Sherlock Holmes, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Illuminatus Trilogy, something by Hunter S. Thompson, or maybe Alan Moore or Bill Drummond.
So how to pick just one book? Well, it’s got to be profound, it’s got to be moving, and it’s got to be something that rewards re-reading. That seems like a good baseline to me. But all of the above do that. So I need some other means of refining it. By genre? Or should I be expressly looking for a non-genre work? Do I include book-format editions of comics as part of my considerations?
Hang on, though. This is the digital era, and I’m being asked a format question. (Yeah, you’ve worked out how I’m going to do this, haven’t you?) I’m not being asked about my favourite content. I’m being asked about my favourite book. That makes it a lot easier to decide, because while I love a lot of the content I’ve named above, the actual editions I own are unremarkable. As far as actual books that I love simply for their form factor as books, that number is a lot smaller. Actually, I can narrow it down to less than half a dozen.
Heston Blumenthal’s The Big Fat Duck Cookbook is available these days in a smaller, regular format, 20 quid cookbook. I won’t say that I don’t know why anyone would buy the smaller format – I might pick up a copy myself, for ease of readability – but the edition I’ve got, the 100 quid beast of a book, the one I honestly put my back out lifting, well that’s an thing of serious beauty. Designed by Dave McKean, beautifully laid out, lavishly illustrated and with photos documenting everything – the content can be read without the form factor, sure, but the form factor makes reading it a (slightly awkward) pleasure.
Bill Watterson’s The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is similarly impractical. 3 Beautiful hardbound editions containing exactly what they say they do. The whole set weighs in at about 10kg, and it’s worth every gram. And if you don’t love Calvin and Hobbes, then there is probably something wrong with you.
Bill Drummond’s 17 is also utterly, utterly lovely. Hardback, bright red, with while lettering in a simple, ultra-clear font. No clutter, just the important stuff. Plus, it’s a bloody good book.
For a while there, I though I’d be smug and clever, and my favourite book would actually be a Black and Red or Moleskine or a Field Notes notebook, because yes, I do love them. And I could waffle on about the potential of the blank page, and how the best books are unwritten. And I’ve left this bit here, because yes, I do really like them as objects, but honestly, most of my notes are scribbles that are dumped onto computer ASAP. I love the form factor of the books and yes, the potential of a new notebook is nice, but once they’re done, they’re done, and I don’t keep them around for anything. I like them more in abstract than I do in reality.
But in fact my favourite book is, as ever, Winnie the Pooh. Some years ago, I acquired a beautiful hardcover slipcase edition containing both the Winne-the-Pooh books, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, with lovely colour versions of E. H. Shepard’s illustrations. It is both a beautiful object, and a fantastic work of fiction for children of all ages – even if one were to outgrow the narratives themselves, the writing will always be some of the finest in the English language, and even the most jaded adults should be able to take pleasure in that, at least.