In my book (pardon the pun), favourite is not synonymous with best. You can have lists of novels whittled down to a fair few, which you might consider as your beloved bedside table companions, but as for the best book you have ever read, this will most likely be the one you only read once, because you can only once bear to experience its literary power.
This is the case with me; I have four favourites, yet none of them quite make it to “best”. These four are: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Van Rijn by Sarah Emily Miano. All these books encompass familiar characters, acquainted stories and convincing narratives, which evoke a sense of home, certainty and comfort in times of discontent and deadlines.
Reading this work five years ago has still left its mark on me, to the point where I can no longer undergo the melancholic misadventures of its characters
Whilst Niffenegger, Wilde and Miano’s masterpieces all very cleverly explore aestheticism and cultural theories throughout history, be it accurate or fictitious, Murakami’s work calmly and simply, yet directly, explains the effects of mental health issues no matter how harsh the realities. Murakami neither dramatizes or romanticises the complexities of mind; in fact, he adamantly refuses to exaggerate on this topic. These four all have a treasured place in my heart, and I would gladly read them again and again for the rest of my life.
However, the best book I have ever read, without a shadow of a doubt, is Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. Reading this work five years ago has still left its mark on me, to the point where I can no longer undergo the melancholic misadventures of its characters.
The highest compliment any book-lover can award a text is, “this absolutely destroyed me”, and A Thousand Splendid Suns is the only one that has won that achievement for me. Hosseini has the incredible knack of weaving words together into a tapestry of twists, turns and tragedies, so much so, that one reading of this novel will shock you into never picking it up again. But you will still forcefully recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Opening these books to enjoy their stories for the millionth time running is like meeting an old loved one for a good, long catch-up
When discussing my four favourites, I tend to talk about specific characters or its writing style, and how these have managed to win my appreciation. Art, a sensitive yet convincing narrative voice, as well as likeable and substantial characters are the key attributes all four novels have in common. There is always something particular about a certain theme or expression that makes a novel memorable for me. And they are fortunately memorable for all the right reasons. Opening these books to enjoy their stories for the millionth time running is like meeting an old loved one for a good, long catch-up – nothing new is said, but mulling over the same old tale still evokes support when a sense of security is far away.
It is not so much the content, the narrative, the characters or the writing style that contribute to a book being the “best”. There is nothing that stands out for me when reading Hosseini’s work – the level of admiration I have for his literary genius is neither higher nor lower than that of the other four authors. It is merely all these elements combined and the long-lasting impression his novel has left on me that enable me to urge others to read it, yet still make me incapable of ever indulging in its brilliance again.
But this list is indefinite. I’m sure there will come a time when I will have added ten more, at which point I would have to take a step back and re-evaluate which books I truly treasure. During the Easter holidays, I did consider including Emma Donoghue’s Room, but thought five favourites might be taking the biscuit. Even though this list will change, A Thousand Splendid Suns for me will never be topped.