Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
What's your own favourite book?
Middlemarch by George Eliot. Oddly perhaps, Eliot is not my favourite writer, although she's probably in my top ten. But I find her Middlemarch endlessly interesting. It's got that widescreen presentation of a community, an entire society, so typical of nineteenth-century novels. It has wonderful characters who strike strange chords in me. It's intellectually provocative and enlightened, all in a page-turning narrative.
I could go on and on without telling you anything that could not be said equally of a dozen other great books: Les Misérables, David Copperfield, Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Jones, Vanity Fair, The Mayor of Casterbridge.... But, for some reason I cannot quite put into words, Middlemarch does it all for me.
If you're really asking what I think is the "greatest" book of all time, I'd have to say War and Peace. I can't say it's my favourite though, as I've read it only once (and consider that an achievement since it is over two thousand pages of tight text). But the summer I took to read it, I seemed to live inside the book. I recognized it was amazing on every level.
After Shakespeare, probably Charles Dickens—though it is hard to compare any great writers' styles, since they excel in different aspects of writing. For creating characters and caricatures that people care about and stories that affect them, Dickens is hard to beat.