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What makes a perfect book?

I was talking about perfect books with a friend of mine the other day. Most of you can point to a few books that sit at the tippy-top of your all-time favorites. Books that have become almost sacred for you. But what is it about these books that separates them from the merely brilliant?

My friend said something about a perfect book commandeering her brainstem, whereas a brilliant book can only take control of her cerebellum, or her bilateral parietal lobes. Or something like that. So that got me thinking: what is it about perfect books that makes them perfect, for me? (More importantly: what's the best medical analogy to convey the difference for me between the perfect and the merely great?)

I try a few promising ones: while most of my favorite books induce complex partial seizures, the perfect books cause generalized tonic-clonic convulsions with complete loss of consciousness and prolonged postictal stupor. . . . Well, that's not quite true. Jonathan Franzen's Corrections made me twitchy, but only because it sucked. China Mieville's Perdido Street Station put me in a coma for two weeks, but it's merely brilliant -- not quite perfect. This neurological analogy just won't work.

How about this: merely great books make me incontinent of urine and stool, but the perfect ones give me profuse, watery diarrhea. . . . Well, that won't work either. Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow (a perfect book) didn't do anything to my GI tract at all.

I realize that I'm going to have trouble using a medical analogy to describe what separates the handful of perfect books from the longer list of great books I've read. My problem is that each perfect book affects me differently. One makes me cry like a baby and another haunts my dreams. One is like black coffee, and another like kentucky bourbon.

The best I can do at this point is give you a list of the few books I'd call perfect. The fact that this list overlaps with my friend's helps to explain why we get along so well.

The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

What perfect books have you read? If you're kind, decent, and civilized, you'll recommend them here and not keep them secret. Don't be an idjit. Tell us.

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