The Help Desk: Shelfish children

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Every time someone asks an author if they have a favorite book of their own, the author mumbles something about choosing between children and refuses to answer. But tell me the truth, Cienna: authors definitely have favorites among their own books, right?


Dear Shannon,

Of course authors have favorites; anyone with pets or children knows that. I myself was an only child for years and even then I wasn't my mother's favorite — I came in fourth behind The Bottle, our family border collie, and a photo of an alligator in a fur coat she found charming.

Then Los came, and the favoritism became even more apparent. He was read books with pop-up mice and fun rhymes, beautifully illustrated and inscribed with love, while I was taught to read whether a medicine bottle for sure said “DO NOT DRIVE HEAVY MACHINERY” in all caps like a direct order — or was it worded more whimsically and listed somewhere after “Take with food”?

Some people change with time, as do their favorites. After 35 years, I have found small ways to worm my way higher into my mother's pickled heart. For instance, if I'm standing in an empty room full of spiders, I can usually rank third — second if I soak myself in gin first. And while children repulse me, I recently adopted a small alligator in a fur coat, which has given us something to bond over. Together, we are teaching Beatrix to read pill bottles. Mother will very likely include her in her will.

You see? Happy endings exist even for the unfavorited.