By Matthew E. Milliken
March 16, 2015
Author’s note: Recently, a young acquaintance who was working on a school project asked me what my favorite book was. I sent this e-mail and then realized, Hey, this would make a great blog post. I’ve made a few relatively minor changes to the text, and — well, here it is. Enjoy! MEM
“What’s your favorite book?” is a great question to ask someone! It’s hard for me to answer, however, because I love so many different books.
I am extremely fond of Tales of Pirx the Pilot, an anthology about a future astronaut written by the late Polish author Stanislaw Lem. (This book was published in Poland in 1968; it was translated into English and published in two parts. I refer here to the first volume, 1979’s Tales of Pirx the Pilot; the second volume, More Tales of Pirx the Pilot, appeared in 1982 and is also excellent.)
Pirx’s adventures are often kind of comical: In the opening story, a very persistent fly gets caught in Pirx’s capsule on his first solo rocket flight. Sometimes, they’re dull — Pirx’s first duty assignment in outer space is essentially watching two scientists who don’t really need any help at a very quiet observatory on the far side of the moon.
The protagonist is a bit bumbling and ordinary, but at the same time he is hard-working, stubborn and kind of charming in a quaint way. Also, Pirx manages to escape some genuinely dangerous situations. We can’t all be Captain Kirk from Star Trek (my favorite TV show when I was a kid), but I like to think that there’s a little bit of Pirx in everyone.
Sometime in my late teens or early 20s, I was very fond of The World According to Garp, a 1978 novel by the American writer John Irving. I think that I saw, and very much enjoyed, the 1982 movie starring Robin Williams before I read the book. I don’t remember the story well any more, but Garp was a wrestler and a writer who survived a variety of situations. Again, some of these were rather ordinary, but some of them very scary, including serious threats to his family. I recall Garp being a decent, if flawed, person.
When I was a kid, perhaps my favorite book of all was Nathaniel Benchley’s 1977 young-adult novel Kilroy and the Gull. This is about a killer whale who is captured by people and separated from his family and put in a marine park. Kilroy, the main character, makes friends with a seagull named Morris. The story can be a little sad at times, but I thought that the friendship between the whale and the bird was very heart-warming. The book also has some wonderful illustrations by John Schoenherr.
(Note: Nathaniel’s son, Peter Benchley, was a very successful author in his own right. Among other things, Peter wrote Jaws, about a killer shark, which Steven Spielberg of course made into a famous 1975 movie.)