Ask me my what my favorite book is and I’ll say that’s easy: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
Ask me what the best book I’ve read is, and I’ll have to think a little longer.
On the one hand, I could tell you the same answer. Racing in the Rain is the best book I’ve read in terms of certain things it does, particularly with certain effects it had on me. For instance, it made me really feel the full range of emotions. No other book has gotten away with making me so angry—possibly because I recognized that that was what the author intended.
It’s also written clearly and it’s engaging and it’s from the point of view of a dog that very closely resembles my own dog.
(Truly, she’s a case of being both the best and favorite.)
In other words, it’s got a special place in my heart, and I think that makes me a bit biased toward it. Determining what the best book is, then, continues to be a problem.
To Kill a Mockingbird and Nineteen Eighty-Four are both contenders for the best books I’ve read, but I’d still have to stop and think a little more about this consideration. What do I value in books? What about these books ring to me as being examples of top-caliber writing?
On the one hand, I’m a fan of Orwell’s views on the English language, and his criticism of bloated writing. He’s all about concision. On the other hand, To Kill a Mockingbird was edited extensively to be an engaging and comfortable read full of subtlety. They’re each great in their own right, in my opinion.
All this is to say, there’s no true definition of “greatness,” nor are there criteria to call something “the best” of its kind. If we were to narrow down the field to “American novels set in the south dealing with race relations” then yeah, Mockingbird wins, hands down.
This is also why we have “guilty pleasures.” YA Dystopian novels are my own personal guilty pleasure, and I even enjoy the movies on some level. I recognize that, for the most part, they aren’t very good. But they’re fun, and I like them.
In other words, not everything you read or do has to be “the best.” I feel like people get criticized for reading/watching/playing things that are sub-par, without acknowledging that there is value in all things.
For instance, my girlfriend is obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy. But not, like, in a way that she actually likes it, at least not anymore. It’s more of an abusive relationship where she has to catch up on it any time she sees there’s a new episode on Hulu. I can’t explain it any better than that. She’s actually been in a great mood since the most recent season ended.
If you ask me what my favorite TV Show is, I’ll probably say Community. If you ask me what the best TV Show I’ve watched is, I might have to search for a bit, but eventually I’d say Pillars of the Earth.
If you ask me my favorite video game (standalone or series) I’d say Mega Man Legends. As for the best, probably Undertale.
I find it fascinating that we can have such different tastes for categories that should, in theory, overlap. After all, wouldn’t you say that the “best” thing in a category is your favorite, simply because you hold it in such high regard?
If money is a factor, that can be one thing. For instance, the best pizza I’ve ever had is from a local place called Angelo’s. But it’s expensive. So, my go-to is Pizza Hut because it’s close and cheap. However, I did find a new local place that’s actually really good and seems affordable…
People also sometimes consider things they don’t understand to be “better” than others. For instance, without naming any names, there are some writers with extremely bloated writing that’s hard to understand and just makes the writer seem smart. This was, as I understand it, a big trend with academic writing in the 70s, where the more complex and long you could make a sentence with it still technically being grammatically sound, the more likely you were to be published and held in high regard.
And that last sentence, long though it was, has nothing on some of the things I’ve read.
Complexity has a longstanding history of being put upon a pedestal. The harder it is to understand, the more likely it is to be considered great. On some level, the reception to Inception was like this. And don’t get me started on the die-hard Donnie Darko fans.
Perhaps my criticism there just speaks to what I value in the things I consider “best.” If it’s something with a message, the message shouldn’t be hidden, that’s just my prerogative. This is why Nineteen Eighty-Four and To Kill a Mockingbird hold a high place on my shelf of great writing.
For what it’s worth, I’d probably say The Sandlot is both my favorite movie and the best one I’ve seen.
How about you? Have you ever had to reconcile between your “favorite” and “best” in a category? I’ve gotten into fights over this kind of thing with people, especially with regards to things I acknowledge are kind of crappy but still enjoy. Please tell me you have, too, so I don’t feel like the only weird one with a temper.