May 6th, 2009

Is it okay to have a favorite among the books you wrote?

I have a running joke with my kids.  I’ll say something about how one of them is my favorite, usually adding,  “and that one knows who I mean.”   The kids are well aware that parents aren’t actually allowed to have favorites, so they go along with the joke and will take turns saying things like, “Yes, I DO know who you mean.”

Of course, I don’t really have a favorite–or at least not a consistent one since my favorite at any given moment is the one being most helpful and least needy.  Or cutest.  Or strongest (depending on how much luggage we’re toting).  Or willing to listen.  Or emotionally supportive.  Or kind . . .  Luckily, they’re all great.   And all deserving of equal attention, love, and time investment.

I was thinking about the whole concept of favoritism because today someone made a comment on my blog, saying that she had read my first novel Same As It Never Was, but not the others.  I was about to write back in a comment that SAINW was my favorite novel of the ones I’ve written when I stopped myself.  Was I allowed to say that?  Was picking a favorite among my novels similar to picking a favorite child? 

You do occasionally hear an author refer to his or her books as “my babies.”   You won’t hear me saying that, though.  Someone once asked me that question in an interview, i.e. did I feel like my books were my babies?  I thought about it and wrote back an emphatic no.  I have both kids and novels and there’s a huge difference.  Sure, you put a lot of time and effort into nursing both along, but once you’re done with a book, you’re done with it.  Kids are endlessly interesting, endlessly changing, endlessly mutating and growing and keeping you on your toes.  They wake you up in the middle of the night and tell you they hate you and give you wonderfully awful presents on Mother’s Day.

Not like books at all.

So, now that I’ve established that books aren’t like kids and we all agree they don’t have feelings I can hurt, I should feel free to proclaim from the rooftops that SAINW  is my favorite novel, right?

Only . . .  It still makes me slightly nervous. 

I was trying to figure out why, and I think it’s for this reason: I’m worried that people who like my other novels will think they’re not quite as good if I come out in favor of this other one.   It will sound like I’m dissing the other two.  Which I’m not.  I mean I like them. They’re just not my favorite.

See?  This is why you can’t call a kid your favorite.  As soon as you name a favorite, you get into all sorts of defensive maneuvering that makes your feelings about any non-favorite sound ever more feeble.

Still, if I had to sit down and reread one of my novels, SAINW would be the one I would chose.  And definitely not to relive some success–it sold a fraction of the copies the other two sold and was a solid flop.    I just like it.  I like the story, I like the characters, when I read it I feel I almost captured what I was going for, and I also remember what fun it was to write. 

I like my other novels, too, of course.  Just not as much.  Maybe it’s a first time thing: there’s something special about that first time that keeps you tender and loving.

Oops.  Don’t tell my three younger kids I just said that.