Shelving the Stigma Behind Favorite Books

There’s an odd stigma and a lot more weight surrounding the question, “what’s your favorite book?” than there should be. Whether being asked in a college application, a job interview, or on a first date, we feel an extreme sense of pressure to answer with the right book, and maybe even are lying about what we consider to be our favorite to have a pleasing, intelligent response. For a while, I told people my favorite book was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I actually hated everything about Brave New World, but I loved that people thought I must be smart since I had read it. 

An assumption that “we all read The Great Gatsby in high school,” is often used to shame people out of having the ‘mainstream’ response that it’s their favorite book, like in this meme. But at the end of the day, not everyone has had the same educational or personal experiences that lead to picking up the same book as you, so a stigma surrounding claiming obscure or high level books is classist at best, and has no reason to further gaps between people. We all learn to read at different times and at different levels; some of us may never read a book due to disability or any number of factors. Your opinion is not any less smart of less important than someone else’s. Books are meant to transport readers and tell stories that we carry with us into our real lives; no one has any say in what does that but you. So, I’ve compiled a list of books I may or may not have read in high school that I am proud to call my favorites, and that you should be, too:

 

books on shelf Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Unsplash

 

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

When I read it, I got the sense that the narrator, Nick Carraway, was actually Nick Carra-gay, which made for very interesting interpretations of the scenes between him and the titular character, his girlfriend Jordan Baker, and even an elevator boy. I also believe that Gatsby is afraid of water, and wrote an essay on that which I sent along with all of my college applications and has even won scholarship awards. It’s accessible because it’s not lengthy or difficult to understand, but really challenging in analysis for readers looking for that.

 

     2. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

 

This was the first book I read that followed a character openly suffering from a mental illness. In Holden Caulfield’s case, he is suffering from depression after the loss of his older brother. It’s the story of a boy trying to become a man in the absence of the most important one in his life, and it’s sad, sarcastic, and a spin on what narratives are normally told during Christmas time in New York City (i.e. white heterosexual couple smiling in red and green clothing, or Eloise being at The Plaza).

 

    3. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

 

The movie is pretty good. The book doesn’t have Ansel Elgort; everything you love but even better! The plot, for those who are unfamiliar: two cancer patients fall in love and you cry a lot.

 

     4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

 

I read this in the 7th-grade book club, and the field trip to go see the movie in theaters exists in my brain as a core memory. While I read it when I was younger, it was a great entry book into the science fiction genre and deals with adult themes as Ender finds himself in battle training for an impending alien invasion. When I was looking it up just now to better suggest it for a read without spoiling anything, I learned that the book is actually recommended reading material for the US Marine Corps. If you haven’t picked it up yet, don’t pass on it, and definitely don’t settle for watching the movie. My brother, almost 30 years old, maintains that Speaker For The Dead, the sequel to Ender’s Game, is his favorite book. So if my word isn’t enough, take it from Jackson.

 

     5. The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

 

This one probably isn’t as common a read, but it is beautiful, almost haunting, and asks a lot about how much of ourselves we keep hidden and what good and bad things would happen if we gave ourselves our true power and let ourselves be free. It’s riddled with flower symbolism and was used against Oscar Wilde in his trial for homosexuality. This book deserves to be higher on my list of favorites and should be on everyone’s.

 

     6. The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins

 

I reread the series while in quarantine, and honestly, we had no business reading these books in middle school. But they’re good. I feel sorry for everyone who didn’t hang out with Josh Hutcherson when he was campaigning on campus for Bernie. Team Peeta or block me.

 

     7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

 

A woman created the genre of Gothic fiction with this work, combining science and horror to tell the most memorable love story I’ve ever read. How did the monster movies even come from this? 

 

     8. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

 

More people are picking this one up thanks to the Ratched series on Netflix, but I followed McMurphy’s journey through the psych ward my senior year of high school. You get really attached to these imperfect characters, and it’s the only book I’ve read (other than Harry Potter) that made me actually feel sympathy and empathy for the “bad guy.”

 

    9. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

 

This is not my favorite Shakespeare play, nor is it his best (Hamlet is the true answer to both), but I do think that it is the most accessible one and everyone is familiar with the story somehow. If you read it from the perspective that Romeo is a Black man, it’s a game changer, and so much more investing. I know I’ll write an essay on that at some point.

 

     10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

Books about the racist South are not enjoyable for me as a Black woman. I remember finishing this book and throwing it across the room during English class as my visceral reaction to the ending. While it’s not anywhere near my favorite book, I understand why it’s taught, and I do love me some Atticus Finch.

 

Bonus:      Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I couldn’t not put Harry Potter on this list, and the 3rd book is objectively the best one.