We don't mean "What's the most important book you've ever read?" – whatever that might suggest. Nor do we mean "Which do you think is the best-written book?"
No, we mean: What book has stayed with you, year after year, radiating its various simple or complex goodnesses through your heart and mind long after reading it? And maybe it's also the book you tend to re-read every now and then because you love it so – you know, just like we asked the people who replied to Part One of this question …
Tim Doyle of Nakatomi Inc: My favorite book of all time by far is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I read it when I was probably eighteen, in high school, and it really informed how I feel about war – and life in general. Every page is dripping with humanity, and it's a really beautifully written novel. It feels like a comedy, but it's way deeper. It's a surprisingly honest novel – and autobiographical, for what's essentially a sci-fi story. It's …amazing.
Kareem Badr of The Hideout: Based on the frequency with which I thrust the book on my more literate friends, I suppose I have to pick The Contortionist's Handbook by Craig Clevenger. It's a brutally efficient and beautifully written novel inspired by the seediness and solitude of classic noir. Drug overdoses, false identities, polydactyly (and that's all just the protagonist) – the plot bullet-points don't really do it justice. Clevenger is an obsessive master of the English language. It also has one of my favorite first lines ever, but I won't spoil that for anyone who hasn't read it yet. (A very close runner-up is Hell's Half Acre by Will Christopher Baer. While reading the first page of the book, I actually hit a sentence that made me slam the book onto my chest and involuntarily shout "God DAMN!" at my ceiling. And reading him properly introduced me to noir as a genre and inspired me to stumble backwards into the decades of classics that had somehow eluded me. For that, I'll be eternally grateful.
Amparo Garcia-Crow of The Living Room: One of my favorites is The World According to Garp. I love the line: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases." The bittersweet mix of "lunacy and sorrow," while it borders on the ridiculous, remains ever painfully true to my senses. But my real all-time favorite book is The Five People You Meet In Heaven, because it rings true for me that the perfect strangers we often exchange the unexpected, fated moments with, however small, often impact our lives in unexpected ways by altering the road we thought we were on.
Benjamin Reed, author: My favorite all-time book is a highly flawed and arguably ham-fisted novel by an unrehabilitated author, for which there is no imaginable aesthetic defense: Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance. Mailer unapologetically trudges into hackneyed noir situations as if he’d invented them (the novel starts with a down-and-out writer trying to quit smoking), deploys tropes MFA kids are wisely warned to steer well away from (“I can’t remember if I murdered my wife!”), and in an age when men started talking about their emotional pain and wearing colorful sweaters and Leo Buscaglia was teaching us how to hug, Mailer gives us a protagonist whose father would never kiss his wife (you never know where their mouths have been), has his hero lose his own wife to an overly endowed detective, and later inexplicably climbs the large obelisk in the center of town, at the summit of which he freezes, paralyzed with fear, and has to be rescued by a muscular black fireman. Mailer ups the ante against those who accuse him of misogyny, and of latent homosexuality, and I’m not at all certain he’s bluffing.
David Moses Fruchter of Slappy Pinchbottom's Odd Preoccupation: It is said – but Allah is all-wise and all-knowing – that my favorite book is Kitāb Alf Laylah Wa-Laylah, or, The Book of a Thousand Nights and One Night. Maybe a cheat answer just because of its enormity (some editions are as many as 12 volumes) but that's also part of why it's the only possible answer. Quantity has a quality all its own! The Arabian Nights (as this vast & diverse collection of stories is commonly known) has everything – magic, romance, adventure, philosophy, wit both wry and dry, ridiculous slapstick, class struggle, lessons on statecraft and moral and practical virtues, poetry, lyricism, erotica, riddles, nested tales within tales within tales, all within a strange and compelling frame story of an original feminist empowering herself through narrative. It's inspired terrific writers from A.S. Byatt to John Barth to Italo Calvino to Jorge Luis Borges, among many many others I'm sure, and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so until we are all at last visited by the Leveller of Cities and Destroyer of Delights. And now I see the approach of morning and discreetly fall silent.
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