As you ask me about my favorite books, I appreciate the question and I appreciate the difficulty of answering it. It is the word “favorite” that goads me. I think I want to answer in this way: “Favorite” are those books that meant so much to me, and that I have read again since — they mean much to me in a new way, anew.
It is important first, of course, to read them when we are young so that we might then reread them when we are not. Each of my favorites are books I have read and reread at different stages of my life. Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” is my first favorite, especially Part One. (My preferred translator is Walter Starkie). I learned from “Quixote” that things are not what they seem to be, that reading can affect us, and that one cannot predict the consequences of our actions (no matter the reasoning we bring to our choices).
And then there is Miguel de Unamuno’s “Our Lord Don Quixote.” He taught and has since retaught me that my personal reading of books — that I take them personally — matters. Also, my reading of “Don Quixote” and Unamuno was not isolated, and your reading is not either. I took a course at UCLA from Walter Starkie, and at the outdoor cafe there he told me stories of Unamuno, whom he knew and whom I devoured. Reading that matters occurs in a community of readers and writers (and translators) in which we reside. I even read “Don Quixote” out loud at one time in my life, and not just to myself.
Other books that mattered then and that mattered at each later time I read them, are Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary,” Homer’s “Odyssey,” “Walden; Or, Life in the Woods” by Henry David Thoreau, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”
These books may not be everyone’s favorites, but the point is this: Make your favorites now good enough and personal enough so that they will be good enough to reread and remake personal again at other times in your life.