I think perhaps if you are a reader, you will have books that are more than favorites. Not many, but a select set of books that you could give to someone as an introduction to who you truly are. Books that have gone beyond story, and become sacred text.
One of those books for me is Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.
Partially, this is because I read Tam Lin fairly early in my return to reading fantasy. (I had a brief detour among things like Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club in a desperate attempt to be one of the cool girls in middle school. Then I read Jane Yolen's Briar Rose and one of the Windling - Datlow anthologies, and the pod person turned back into Kat.) It filled a longing in my readerly heart I wouldn't have been able to articulate before reading this book.
But mainly, it's because Tam Lin reads as if Dean managed to pry open my soul, and pluck out all my favorite things, and then wrote them into her book: retold fairy stories, sure, but also fencing and Shakespeare and girls who save themselves and poetry and people who can have entire conversations quoting lines from best-loved books. Hauntings, and heartbreak, and the stone-hearted Queen of Fairy. It was exactly the sort of thing I needed as a reader.
And read it I did. Over and over, at least once a year, every year since. I also read all the books Dean mentions, and learned Latin and Greek far before I had ever contemplated studying medieval lit, because of this book. Had I not been a fencer before reading it, I would have taken up the sword in its honor.
Dean was one of the guests at the Fantasy Matters conference. I was ecstatic when I learned she agreed to come. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet her the day she was in attendance. As an organizer, there were other demands on my time. But I gave my copy of Tam Lin to a friend, and it is signed.
Before you feel sad for me though, I will also tell you this: I met her the year after the conference, at a party at a friend's house. When he introduced us, I did the one thing I never have before or since - I turned into a flailing, babbling fangirl. I gasped, possibly yelped, and then garbled out, "Oh my God, I learned ancient Greek because of your book!"
But really, there is no better way to describe what Tam Lin means to me.