It is not surprising, I suppose, that I’ve been queried about this a number of times since my “debut” novel came out. “What’s your favorite book?” is a common interview question, along with “How long have you been writing?” and “Where do you get your ideas?” Common, however, does not make it easy. I love the Odyssey and Jane Eyre and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I’ve loved everything Robertson Davies wrote, and I’m a Michael Connelly fan. I adore Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Which do I like the most? If I try to pick one, I feel like the mother of quints asked to name her favorite child.
And there are so many more! This morning, as I happened to read something online about Liberace, I was reminded of a book that enchanted me back in the eighties: Roadside America, by Mike Wilkins, Ken Smith, and Doug Kirby. I loved everything about this book, from its premise to its design. Best of all was the writing, which, without malice or derision, described odd roadside attractions across the country with a perfect blend of humor and good journalism.
I loved his book so much that I bought multiple copies and gave them away as gifts. My own copy grew dog-eared and coffee-spotted. I have no idea how many times I read it, but it delighted me every time I picked it up with its descriptions of Paul Bunyan statues, “mystery” houses, oddly formed trees, diving pigs, unexplained fossils, weird mummies, and strange edifices crafted by even stranger people. The Liberace Museum was in here, too, which is why I thought of the book this morning.
Neither my old copy of Roadside America nor the Liberace Museum exist anymore. The book burned up in the fire that destroyed my home, and the museum was the victim of mismanagement and the recession. After that fire, in part because having no stuff made it possible, my husband and I lived “on the road” for more than six years. Traveling all over North America, we visited a number of the tourist meccas described in Roadside America. When our journeys eventually brought us to Las Vegas, we visited the Liberace Museum.
Roadside America lives on as a website and is now a vast database of the fascinating and eccentric wonders that rise and fall along America’s highways and byways. There’s even an app now that will let you plan a road trip based on your choices of peculiar attractions, from “muffler men” and giant chairs to jackalopes and cypress knees.
So right now, as I write this, Roadside America gets my “favorite” badge. Tomorrow, though, my mind might drift to John Steinbeck or Hunter S. Thompson or Doris Lessing. Or Tod Goldberg or Stacy Schiff or whatever determined British fellow once compiled a book of newspaper mistakes called The Bumper Book of Boobs.
Favorite book? The one that’s enchanting me right now, whether I’m reading it for the first time or enjoying memories of the gifts it gave me.