Extra Credit: Do you ever loan out books to friends or family?
Oh boy, what a delicious question for an English major and budding librarian!
I would actually find it much more difficult to choose a favorite genre or category than a favorite book of all time, a question I can easily answer, and will get to later in this entry. My tastes in fiction to do not tend to lean toward one genre or another. I like a good story, period. For me, that mostly means the story contains characters that I can remember and care about (The Da Vinci Code failed for me on this front, while the Harry Potter series is a smashing success . . . sometimes I still lie awake worrying about my Hagrid! (Yes, I'm exaggerating because I like the effect)). Anything that can make me laugh is also always welcome here. A quick survey of my fiction shelves may give a good idea of my literary tastes. Here's a list of authors who appear three or more times in my personal library, and of course this leaves out a lot of "ones and twosies":
Douglas Adams, Jane Austen (I'm only missing Mansfield Park to complete my collection; I ought to fix that), Peter Carey, Henry James, Steve Martin, L.M. Montgomery, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, and (of course) William Shakespeare. My father built a shelf for me one Christmas containing a 1901 book set of all of his works: the plays, the sonnets, the longer poems, everything . . . and the quote that is the title of the entry is carved in the wood. These books aren't very practical to use, as trying to separate the pages from one another pretty much doesn't do anything but tear them, but it's a fun thing to have. If I actually want to read Shakespeare, I have the Riverside Shakespeare from my college days and various paperbacks I have accumulated over the years.
Now, as far as my non-fiction preferences, I like reading about anything that interests me, which includes almost (but not entirely) everything. My non-fiction shelves are pretty much arranged by category (I was born to be a librarian!), and those categories include, but are not limited to:
* Vegetarian cookbooks, which I really need to use more often.
* Books about writers
* Books about writing
* Books about the theater
* Books about cats
* Books about religion
* Books about philosophy
* Short stories (yes, these are really fiction but for space's sake they ended up here)
* Biographies (examples: I own biographies of Dr. Seuss and Sarah Bernhardt)
* Travel books (I have a slew of Lonely Planet and Rough Guides . . . which I
really enjoy reading even if I don't get to every place in them. I also have that book
1,000 Places to See Before You Die. At age 33, I've seen about 80 of them,
I think, which means maybe I'll get to about 24% of them if I live to be 100.
* Books about music (mostly rock music)
* Some left-wing political stuff that I probably would have gotten in trouble for
owning if I'd been around for the McCarthy era
* Literary anthologies I've saved from college (yes, mostly fiction)
* Computer books on things like HTML, Java, MS Word, Perl, UNIX, desktop
publishing, etc., sit in a shelf at the bottom of my computer desk
* French, Spanish, and Chinese Dictionaries
* Various reference works (dictionaries, special encyclopedias, etc.)
Now, as for the "favorite book of all time" question: it is Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I remember reading somewhere, perhaps it was a book called History of Literature that it "contains almost everything a novel can hold," and indeed it is even more immense than its +1200 page length would suggest. Everything a novel can hold can include flaws, yes, and this book's had its share of attacks for its plot contrivances, sentimentality, and overly drawn characters. But this is a book with power, one that has inspired people from all classes to become things, following in Jean Valjean's footsteps on his path to being a good person. Is there anything greater than that a novel can do? This is a piece of art that presents, before its readers, the magnitude of compassion toward all men, women, and children, especially in a world that is hard.
I also enjoy Les Miserables as a treasure box, where I'll find scores of personalities, mundane places made amazing (like the sewers of Paris), French history, glimpses into religious life, and so much more. Abridged adaptations often leave out the long passages on things like the battle at Waterloo, argot, etc, but even in these digressions I tend to find new ideas every time I look at them. This book is a gift.
Yes, I love the "world's most popular musical," but it can't match the experience (or should I say multitude of experiences) of reading the book. In case you haven't noticed, I recommend it.
PS I got so wrapped up in thinking about Les Miserables that I almost forgot about the extra credit! I never actually offer to lend out my books, but when I asked, I never say no. This frequently results in my never seeing the book again, but if it's a good book, I suppose it's a donation toward a worthy cause. :)