Some of My Favorite Reads

How's a YA literature professor to choose?

December 29, 2009

What’s your favorite book?

If you’re like me, that’s a tough question. There’s the one that captures the mood you’re in, the one that pulls you out of the mood you’ve been in, the one with those charming turns of phrase, the one with the cunning plot turns, the one with the better-than-you’d-hoped-for ending, and more.

It depends on what one means by favorite. Do I tell you Walden is my favorite because it’s deep and true and visiting the cabin site near Concord, Massachusetts, resonates every time I walk in the woods? Or To the Lighthouse and its visions of writing and artistry? Or do I tell you about the book that I’d want to crawl into bed with when my sinuses seem bent on reenacting Zeus’s birth of Athena, less the whole arrival-of-wisdom bit?

Right now choosing a single book isn’t my problem. I’m preparing to teach an enigmatically named course titled Young Adult Resources, which for me usually involves the novel and the research literature that contextualizes issues experienced by teen protagonists. A couple of colleagues and I talked recently about a guilty moment in selecting readings for such a class: There’s this book, and you love it, and you want someone, anyone, okay, everyone to read it and be swept away by it, too. Sometimes the book turns out to be an ugly duckling of sorts, and it’s hard to convince prospective readers of its attractiveness. In a library, you wonder if you can justify keeping it on the shelf; in a class, you wonder about its presence on the syllabus.

Teacher’s pets

Here, then, is a handful of current and enduring infatuations that my students might soon encounter.

  1. The “It Reminded Me of Friends” title: Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler’s Scrambled Eggs at Midnight (Dutton, 2006). I have dear friends who go annually, like moths to the proverbial flame, to the Renaissance Faire in Shakopee, Minnesota, and they love me even when I won’t go with them. A book set at one such Faire, then, was irresistible. It offers a tender portrayal of teen romance and, as a bonus for unreformed English majors and those yet-to-be, our hero provides one nifty little explanation of T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
  2. The “Library Discard That Followed Me Home” title: Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Sherwood Ring (Houghton Mifflin, 1958). Attracted by its cover, I had to have this book from the Friends’ store. With an orphaned heroine, an estate, a tweed-jacketed historian, quirky ghosts, and a Revolutionary War backstory, what’s not to like? Pope, who taught Milton and Shakespeare, won a Newbery Honor for her other YA title, The Perilous Gard. Yet The Sherwood Ring is far better.
  3. The “Encounter Lost to Time” title: I can’t quite recall when I first curled up with Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs (Grosett and Dunlap, 1912), but the tween daughter of friends has recently developed a fondness for this epistolary romance, too. A sweet, innocent story is what she’s looking for in a book right now, her mother tells me.
  4. The “I Didn’t Want to Like It—At All” title: Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books, 2009). Like a good Jane-ite, I looked askance at the effrontery of this interloper until a chance encounter (or some reviews on libraries’ teen sites) led me to turn a few of its pages. Dear Reader, I confess—it made me laugh.

Such an eccentric list omits as much as it shares. It’s decidedly imperfect, omitting my favorite literary bear, Iorek Byrnison; the new and strangely exhilarating Leviathan; the overwhelming voice that reveals How I Live Now; and so many authors whose “electric life, which burns within their words” (per Percy Shelley) charges and challenges the youthful world.

Jennifer Burek Pierce is assistant professor of library and information science at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Contact her at jennifer-burek-pierce[at]


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