Maybe you know the situation. You’re filling out an application or participate in a contest and then there it suddenly is: The big book question. Right in the middle of all the questions which are rather easy to answer or to navigate around, there’s this one question that’s even more troublesome than “Where do you see yourself in five years?”.
And here it is, the trickiest of all tricky questions (drum roll):
“What’s the title of the last book you read?”
Is it just me who’s totally stressing out about this one? At first, it seems pretty standard and easy to answer, I’d even say innocent. However, it’s basically what my worst interview nightmares are about. And I wish I was exaggerating here. – Well, I’m not.
See, this supposedly easy question says way more about a person than one might imagine. That’s why I’m never sure how to answer it. Of course, I could be honest and say that for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading EVERYTHING Sophie Kinsella has ever written. But what would that say about me? Honestly, I love Sophie Kinsella, so I really don’t want to discredit her work or judge anyone for reading her books. Regardless of that, I (meaning: that’s my problem, don’t care about what I’m saying) have the feeling that if I admit to that, I’ll be considered pretty basic. I mean, I am, but I don’t want it to be that obvious. So which book can I mention?
Something written by Oscar Wilde? Nah. I mean, he’s brilliant and I will probably never stop fangirling over his amazing work that is just unparalleled. Nevertheless, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m a part of the crowd that’s not even able to correctly match his quotes to the texts they’re originating from. Also, when I went to Père Lachaise and saw what “fans” had done to his resting place, I immediately knew that I would never want to be considered one of them. That’s why I usually never talk about how much I love Oscar Wilde in public.
Ok, how about some classical literature then? Pfffff. The worst. Classical literature is the one that makes you sound the most pretentious. Even if you genuinely enjoy reading it, my personal impression is that – if I don’t want people to roll their eyes at me – it’s somehow better not to mention it. I mean let’s imagine someone asks you about your favorite book and you say “I’m just in love with Goethe’s Faust, part II”. (Or just Faust for that matter.) I’m sorry, but it’s quite unlikely that demography will be on your side here – unless you’re at a party for German philologists, maybe. What’s more probable is that this statement will be considered as pretentious, and that no one cares that the plot is actually still relevant, even today. Same goes for anything existentialist. In an era where we’re watching future brides making a big deal of having to face the huuuuuuge decision whether to go with a sleeveless or a halterneck dress on TV, it’s quite challenging to make sure that the person who’s asking the book question will relate to Meursaults angst in Albert Camus’ L’Etranger, for example.
So what’s left to quote? I actually don’t know. Of course, this teeny tiny overview is far away from being even remotely representative of all the great literature out there. But since we’re here, why not quote comics/ graphic novels like Persepolis or Maus? Would it be smart to mention these? I’m pretty sure that quite a few people have read and also enjoyed them I feel like basically everyone has read them, which might be cool for getting a conversation going.
But since I’m super self-conscious when it comes to mentioning books I like, I also want to be extremely sure that I’m not quoting something super mainstream. That’s why I usually name Cakes and Ale; or: The Skeleton in the Cupboard by William Somerset Maugham. (Btw, I can recommend ANYTHING written by him, his work is just amazing.) And then, an awesome book I just recently discovered and will definitely quote next time the book question comes up: When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I haven’t even read that much of it, yet, but I’m already hooked.
So that’s it, that’s my answer. Let me know if you have any great titles to recommend or tell me what kind of question you fear the most in an interview (or in general).