If you could pick one novel — just one —

And leave that single novel for posterity, what would it be?

I saw a question similar to this on Quora this morning and surprised myself by having an immediate reaction. Generally I freeze up with this kind of question, because of course it’s hopeless to choose just one book.

I’m not sure I would eventually decide to go with my very first, immediate answer, but here it is:

Immediate answer: Les Miserables.

After that of course I thought about this question a little more. It’s not like I read Les Mis more than once. I did read it, though — the unabridged version, too — which is a measure of how much I loved the play.

Second answer: classic novel I’ve read a lot more than once: The Count of Monte Cristo.

But I’m not sure. Maybe? I really love this book, but let me pause for a moment and reflect that I really prefer fantasy to all other genres. Once I say to myself, “Wouldn’t you rather pick a fantasy novel?” the answer is clear:

Third Answer: The Lord of the Rings.

I’m stopping with that one. That’s the one I’d probably choose, if it actually came to a choice.

How about you? Do you have an instant reaction, and does that choice outlast a five-minute pause for reflection?

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10 thoughts on “If you could pick one novel — just one —”

  1. Hmm. The problem of palimpset, and the lost works of the ancients. I wouldn’t pick any of those, because surely someone else would have chosen them. I think I would pick Swallows and Amazons or Death of the Necromancer. One is a gem of a childrens book. The other, a gem of gaslamp fantasy.

  2. My gut reaction was A Wrinkle in Time – I like the idea of it being something that’s aimed younger, and more positive in its world outlook

  3. There we go, LofR is clearly an excellent choice. Evelyn, I think I’ll consider annoying your graduate adviser a feature, not a bug.

    Pete, really, I will definitely read Swallows and Amazons. Eventually.

  4. I also first thought of LOTR, then paused and thought again, and maybe, maybe a McKillip, Riddlemaster or Atrix Wolfe or Fool’s Run.

  5. My first gut reaction was Pride & Prejudice. But as soon as you mention fantasy, well yeah, LOTR is hard to beat. (I say, as I have begun re-reading the trilogy yet again this week, and am as always finding new bits to astonish and delight me as I go.)

  6. Dorothy Dunnett. Patrick O’Brian. Hilary Mantel. There are too many genres out there to pick just one! And why not the three musketeers, 10 years after, and the vicomte de bragelonne over the Count of Monte Cristo? No way I could ever pick just one.

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