This Special Double Issue of South Central Review began with a Call for Papers we issued early in 2021, raising a question somewhat rare in the scholarly context: "What is Your Favorite Novel?" While we had been discussing this as a possible journal issue theme for some time, the onset of COVID-19 and the consequent long lockdowns of 2020–2021 brought for us an extra immediacy to the subject. On an anecdotal level, friends and colleagues told us they were reading more, and especially inclined to revisit beloved novels during the pandemic. More broadly, news reports from Spring 2020 through the present moment confirm a global spike in reading,1 with many people turning to familiar and favorite novels for their literary fare. Reports and data from publishers and fanfiction websites show a notable uptick in the reread; as Sarah Wendell, author and co-founder of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website wrote relatively early in the pandemic, "If you've been rereading books you adore, welcome to the club. Like a well-loved blanket and a favorite set of jammies, familiar books, worlds and stories may be exactly what you need when everything both changes by the minute and remains relentlessly the same."2 As we heard more and more stories of people rereading their favorite books in the last year, our interest rose in providing an academic journal platform for contributors to consider what it is about a given book that elevates it to favorite status in their minds.
We found ourselves thinking about the idea of the favorite novel in particular, and about readers' intellectual and emotional relationships with the novels that they prize. Our focus on that genre largely stems from its somewhat unique capacity for inviting us to imaginatively marinate, at length, in settings and among characters, points of view, and situations removed from our immediate tumultuous moments in time, while also—perhaps precisely because of that relative distance—providing us with fresh and interesting insights for engaging those moments. Trying to tap into such dynamics, our Call for Papers read in part: "During the pandemic, we've heard that a lot of people went back to read their favorite novels as comfort and sustenance through the hard times." We asked for essays in which "authors reflect on the literary, artistic, or other merits of the novel in question, why it resonates as it does, and perhaps [End Page 1] why it was important at a particular moment in history, or why it remains influential today." What we received more than exceeded our hopes for the Double Issue we present for you here.
Our roster of thirty-one article contributors from around the world includes independent scholars, creative writers, graduate students, and professors of various ranks and areas of expertise. The novels covered reflect a similar breadth;3 taken together, the literature explored here represents novelists from multiple racial, gender, national, continental, aesthetic, and ideological backgrounds while spanning three centuries in time of literary art. The methodological approaches at play in these articles also vary in interesting ways, with some pieces conducting more formal scholarly analyses, and others taking a comparatively reflective, personal vantage point for discussing their favorite novel. Many of the essays, too, situate their discussions in context of the COVID-19 pandemic and a host of other pressing cultural, historical, and political matters. But all of the articles express contributors' deeply appreciative sense of their chosen novels' overall excellence and resonances with our contextual moment no less than with their own. We are also pleased to include three interviews in this issue, conducted by scholars with successful, contemporary novelists who discuss their own ideas and literary achievements, and share some of their favorite novels and literary influences upon their imaginations and writing careers.
We are proud and delighted to present this Special Double Issue of South Central Review, entitled "What Is Your Favorite Novel?", and in addition to your enjoyment of the discussions contained, we hope you will agree that what we have offered here also presents a wonderful reading list for branching out and reading some great novels for the first time...