Juliane Witte

I have never been able to pick a favourite book. Or rather, I have picked countless of books as my ultimate favourite, only to then, a week, a month, a year later, find a new favourite. Does that make me fickle? I don't think so. Let me explain!

My journey with books started quite early and, like all habits good and bad, is completely my parents' fault. Every night before I went to sleep, they'd read me a chapter or two of whatever book they picked. The first one I vividly remember was Michael Ende's Die Unendliche Geschichte (The NeverEnding Story) in which a little boy takes refuge in reading a book, only to actually become a part of its world himself. There was something about the idea of being physically drawn into your favourite book, really living in it, that captivated me immediately. I did my very best to be drawn into a fictional world from that moment on and not long after it seemed like I'd succeeded. My parents took me and my little sister on a camping trip to Greece, backpacking through the Peloponnesus for a few weeks. Exactly where they found the courage to do this with 2 children under 8, I'll never know, but they also brought along a copy of Gustav Schwabb's Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. While reading about the war of the Titans, the start of the Trojan War and the exploits of the various gods, I wandered through the ruins of Zeus' Temple, got a sunburn at the Parthenon and practiced at being an oracle in Delphi. It was quite a magical summer and a love for mythology and mischief stayed with me.

That mischief and that magic found me again when I discovered the Harry Potter books. Or maybe they discovered me. All I know is that it was love at first read. I spent most of those years either reading the latest book or watching the newest movie adaptation. Sometimes there'd be celebrations in bookstores where grownups wore capes and lemonade was served from cauldrons, until at midnight the new book was revealed. Harry Potter was everywhere and it truly felt, at least for a while, like we all lived in a world where magic might be real. And to be honest, that never really changed. Only a few months ago I squealed over the phone to my sister to tell her how our very own EF headquarters was now covered in Fantastical Beasts goodness.

Alas, although my love for Harry Potter stayed constant, he was eventually replaced in the spotlight by a new passion. As a teenager I found myself obsessed with Jane Austen, whose biting wit surprised me every time. I pretty much ignored my family for days as I devoured Pride & Prejudice. I was never a very patient reader, so I read most of her works within a few months, despite not having a single clue what a carriage was. As I worked my way through her books I did become rather grateful I couldn't accidentally disappear into them, as the idea of a world without Wi-Fi, the right to vote and vaccinations didn't seem all that appealing. So although there was no 18th century England for me, Austen's novels did bring me to 21st century Britain for a degree in English Language and Literature.

At university, I worked my way further and further back through English literature until I ended up at the very earliest, almost mythological, works. Here be dragons! 8th century Europe, however, is also not an appealing place to disappear off to, so my grandmother came to the rescue. She loaned me her copy of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, which I never returned but gave a place of honour in my own bookcase after I finished it. In Chang's book, I discovered a whole history and culture to explore that had never really been on my radar before. That book started my fascination with China, but neither me nor my grandmother would have expected that a few years later I would live there myself.

So yes, picking a favourite book is rather hard when there are so many that change your life without you even realizing it. I didn't pick up any of the books mentioned above with the hope they'd inspire me to teach abroad in China or travel destinations, and yet each of them did in their own way. Depending on when you ask me, any of them or many others could be my favourite book. And it'd never be a lie.

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