Desert Island Books

It’s that old scenario, white sandy beach, a single palm tree, gulls shrieking, strings playing Sailing By and Kirsty Young asking you to choose eight books. The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare are apparently already under the palm tree, thanks to the DIBSTUS (Desert Island Bible and Shakespeare Top Up Society).

What criteria to use? After all, millions of people are not listening to your choices, so you don’t have to answer to them, or make your choices represent important people or events in your life. But DIBSTUS will only deliver 8 more books so you do have to find some criteria or other.

It’s clear that I should choose books I want to read again and again, for all the years I will be stranded, listening to Sinatra singing My Way (also provided by DIBSTUS for all castaways)? I could go for the greatest books list. The Guardian’s 100 greatest novels of all time begins well enough with Don Quixote, and Pilgrim’s Progress, and then at #3 – just the thing on your desert island – Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. There are no women writers in the top eight books in the list. Jane Austen’s Emma and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley come in at #9 and #10. They may be the greatest (longest?) novels of all time, but these top eight are worthy, harsh and actually, rather masculine. I expect DIBSTUS would approve. I’ll take a different set to my desert island.

My great-grandfather referred to reading as a conversation with the author, and I find myself asking with whom would I like to converse on my desert island? Not John Bunyan or Daniel Defoe I am sure. John Bunyan would treat every day like Sunday, and Daniel has seen it all before, after all. Been there, done that! Is there a T shirt?

So here is the list of authors with whom I would like to converse, and my pick of their books:

Jane Austen, I think I’d try to persuade Kirsty [see what I did there!] to allow me the complete works, but if she doesn’t agree I’ll take Pride and Prejudice.

Pride & Prej

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 has the kind of humour that exactly appeals to my generation, loads of characters and idiosyncrasy, full of those moments of human stupidity and situations when only laughing at the absurdity will get you through.

Virginia Woolf, The Waves. It’s about time I got to grips with this novel. She’s such an amazing and thoughtful writer, never did anything without great reflection. But I felt mostly relief when I first finished reading it. The island context would seem appropriate for a project related to the sea, and to explore the novel further.

Marge Piercy Woman on the Edge of Time for its vision of a world where gender differences are irrelevant; or Ursula le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness for a different approach to the same topic. (Help! Can’t decide!)

W.G. Sebald Austerlitz. I don’t believe I would ever tire of the inventiveness and imaginativeness of Sebald’s writing. And the tour de force of the description of Theriesenstadt deserves the familiarity a castaway’s life could provide.

George Eliot Middlemarch. I wouldn’t tire of this book either with its study of people and their relationships and the fixes they get themselves into.

Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did. I want to overthrow the teachings of this childhood favourite, with its awful insistence on self-sacrifice for girls. I might write What Katy did in 2013 to replace it. The date in the title would have to adjust according to when I get rescued.

Bookshelf DSC00106

That leaves one choice. Any suggestions? In the absence of better offers I can always take the Guardian’s #1 because I have never read it all through: Don Quixote.

Oh dear, Kirsty is asking for a last choice: just one of these books and one luxury. Reading glasses perhaps. But which book?

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Virginia Woolf

3 Responses to Desert Island Books

  1. Anne Gore

    Kirsty WILL let you take collected works because she let Neil Tennant – of Pet Shop Boys- take La Comedie Humaine by Balzac which consists of 91 finished works and 46 unfinished works! I was interested in this as one of my choices would be La Cousine Bette, one of the 91 mentioned above. I read this years ago and loved it so much. I think Neil chose them in translation and I would too, I’m afraid. But when he got away with this choice I took note as if I am ever famous enough to be cast away this would definitley be my choice too- keep one going for a bit!

  2. Caroline

    That’s an interesting idea – I didn’t think about foreign fiction.
    I realised that I might have chosen some poetry as well – The Rattle Bag or Palgrave’s Golden Treasury or something else – which my sister pointed out.
    And thanks for the information about being allowed collected works. I’ll go for the collected George Eliot as well then.

  3. Eileen

    Fab Caroline – great blog. I’m really enjoying Mrs Palfry at the moment but I don’t think it would be one of my 8. Off the top of my head – Cold Comfort Farm, Something by Alan Bennet, Talking Heads I expect, and probably my one and only would be Therese Raquin (Spelling?). And there is La Dame aux Camellias, (Spelling?) Rebecca – that’s 6 – OMG help – this is so difficult. I might change my mind about them all tomorrow. Lots of love, e x

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