Arlene Perly Rae’s Everybody’s Favourites
Penguin, 1997

One of the quotes that appears as an epigraph to this volume felt particularly poignant to me this summer: “One’s first book, kiss, home run, is always the best.”

It’s courtesy of Clifton Fadiman (yes, father of the infamous Ex Libris author) and I noted it in particular because my youngest step-daughter read her first book independently about a week ago.

I’ve never had a first home run, and now it seems unlikely that I shall, but I do certainly remember the reader that first brought those 26 letters together in a way that made sense. It wasn’t a particularly exciting story (it was of the Dick and Jane variety), but it was “mine” from that moment, and it was the mine-ness that mattered.

Arlene Perly Rae has gathered together book-soaked reminiscences that appeal to those who share her passion for reading, and it’s particularly enjoyable for me as Everybody’s Favourites contains so many anecdotes and memories of Canadian readers so it’s far more likely that I’ve read the same books (whereas similar books I’ve read have focussed on British and American favourites) and that they’re written by Canadian authors.

Which isn’t to say that it’s all Lucy Maud Montgomery and Farley Mowat (although LMM does have a chapter all her own); there are a lot of predictable favourites from writers who aren’t Canadian as well.

“I read Little Women all that day and into the night. I was in another time, in another house, with another family.”
Gail Bowen (That reminds me, I’ve only read the first couple of Joanne Kilbourn mysteries: I need to catch up.)

Of Arthur Ransome’s books, Welwyn Wilton Katz says: “Though it has been a long time since I was nine, I have never stopped reading those twelve novels. My two favourites, Pigeon Post and Peter Duck, are now dog-eared and spine-cracked.” (I suspect a later edition of this chapter might contain references to similarly worn childhood copies of Katz’s Third Magic and Whalesinger.)

“My heart thumped, like Jim Hawkins’s, for this was one of several unexpected surprises in Treasure Island, in my opinion the best boy’s book ever written.” (That’s Pierre Berton, who said he would “always remember the electric thrill” inspired by this Robert Louis Stevenson tale.)

It’s no coincidence that I’ve chosen three passages from writers; they’re the ones that stand out for me in this collection, but there are all kinds of contributors, from politicians to musicians, from businesspeople to actors. When this book was new, I read it from start-to-finish and recognized far fewer of the names, but I’ve picked it up many times since, and I recognize more of them with every browse.

The occasion for this particular browse was inspiration for my plans for this year’s Canadian Reading Challenge; I’m sure many readers are already busily reading their selections, but I’m still thinking about it.

Perhaps you have been dipping into an old favourite lately too…