Updated on May 2, 2017
On losing favourites
One of the toughest questions you can ask a book-lover has to be: ‘What is your favourite book?’ For most of us the answer is far more complicated than simply naming a title, because our favourites likely change all the time. There’s the book you just finished and loved; your top five, ten or fifteen of last year; not to mention a whole host of nostalgia-tinted books that came along at just the right time in your life and changed you for the better.
An easier question, then, might be: ‘Who is your favourite author?’ But again, answering that can be fraught with difficulty. Putting aside the obvious difficulty of naming just one author, your opinion of an author’s work can change over time, especially if that author is still alive and producing work. In the last couple of years I’ve experienced a quite striking drop-off of interest in three authors I would at one time have called my ‘favourites’, and it can be extremely difficult to admit that a writer who once changed your life now leaves you feeling quite ‘meh’. Here are my three lost favourites, and the reasons why I lost them:
Gabriel García Márquez
I read Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude in my late teens/early twenties and thought they were absolutely brilliant. If I read them again I’m quite sure I would still think they’re brilliant. But I’m not really reading Márquez any more because of a case of ‘one bad book’. I attempted to read Autumn of the Patriarch last year, and despite it being fewer than 250 pages, I could not get to the end. The main reason was the style: the entire book is written in just a handful of sentences, which are often chapter-length, and I found it basically impossible to get into. I might have said before reading Autumn that Márquez could do no wrong. Well, it seems he can, but I’m sure this is an isolated incident. There’s a lot more Márquez out there and I hope I’ll get back into him eventually.
This is a particularly hard one to admit to, because Cloud Atlas completely revolutionised what I thought writing and novels could be, and I still consider it one of my favourite books of all time. What’s more, I love Mitchell as a person; I did an 8-hour round-trip to see him at the Hay Festival in 2015, and I thought he was interesting and funny and just really cool. Unfortunately, my problem with Mitchell is that I don’t like his new stuff. I read The Bone Clocks and didn’t like the magical elements at all, and then I was disappointed that he returned to them in Slade House. I really, really hope that in his next books he’ll move away from the world he’s established in The Bone Clocks, because I love his earlier work but really cannot get on with what he’s writing now.
The biggest disappointment of them all has to be Murakami. I devoured Murakami’s work in my teens, starting with The Elephant Vanishes and moving on to Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore. More recently I’ve read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, both of which I loved. I thought Murakami was brilliant, surreal, insightful – someone whose work I’d keep reading (and loving) all my life.
Then came Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which I got halfway through on audiobook. It was awful. It was like seeing all of Murakami’s worst writing habits writ large. First, the total lack of understanding about technology, which is unfortunately a central focus of the novel. Second, the bland central character who blands his way through his bland life, blandly. Third, the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ stereotype; in this case, a teenage girl who is absolutely desperate to sleep with the narrator, who finds her attractive ‘despite’ her being fat. When the narrator mentioned the girl being fat-yet-sexy for the billionth time, I turned it off, and my brushes with Murakami have never been the same since. The short graphic novel The Strange Library was fine, as was the first story in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, but I just can’t get myself excited about his novels any more. It’s like I’ve read too much Murakami; I know his tropes and his tricks and they no longer do anything for me.
It can be a real shame to lose a favourite, but I think this is probably a natural part of being a reader. An author can come into your life at just the right time and mean the world to you, and even if that person loses their appeal later on, that doesn’t change the fact that you once loved them with all your heart. Sad though it is, I think it’s probably OK to lose favourites. They come into your life, change you, then leave to make way for new ones.
Have you ever lost a favourite writer? Or rediscovered a love for someone you’d given up on years before? Let me know with a comment down below!