Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Island Books

I posted a week and a half ago about which movies I would want with me if I were stuck on a deserted island (ignoring the likelihood that this deserted island would not have the necessary apparati to watch movies). Today I decided to attempt the same with books.

However, deciding which five books I'd have with me is much harder. I read a lot, and I reread a lot. A good book is one that can be read and enjoyed multiple times and on multiple levels. In fact, while the surprise and wonder experienced the first time through a book is hard to beat, the only thing that comes close is the satisfaction of inhabiting a great world again, this time not paying so much attention to plot points but rather breathing in the atmosphere. But which books would stand the deserted island test? Good question. Before I move into those, because I am a list-maker, here are my top ten favorite fiction books, to give you a sense of my overall taste:

  1. Don Quixote by Cervantes
  2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  4. Silence by Shusaku Endo
  5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  6. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
  7. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  8. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
This list is not set in stone (number 10 especially wavers between Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and the other books sometimes swap spots), but I think the last time a book was added to it was 2008. This is a pretty good representation of the fiction I like. However, as with my island movies, the books I'd want with me on a deserted island are not necessarily my favorites. I'll probably want variety. And, for the purposes of this exercise, a book counts as any bound collection of pages sold in a single volume (so, for example, while Shakespeare wrote many plays and sonnets, because there are Collected Works of William Shakespeare sold in single volumes, all of his plays could count as one book; same with The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia--they are sold as single volumes, so they can legitimately count as one book. My post, my rules).

Here's my rough list:
  • The Holy Bible. There is no other book as important as this, and a whole lifetime could not exhaust its treasures. It has it all, and a life without it wouldn't be much of a life at all.
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes. This is the book that I would most like to inhabit. I don't use the term "magical" all that often, but this book has that quality to it. Also, Sancho Panza is my favorite literary character. I could reread and reread this book.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This book is fiction, but it's almost more philosophy. The images are powerful, the writing is beautiful, and the ideas are ones to continually struggle with. I would definitely want this one on the island with me, if only to try to understand it better.
  • A short story collection (probably by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nikolai Gogol, Flannery O'Connor, or P.G. Wodehouse, or perhaps a short story anthology). The other books on my list, if you haven't noticed, are all fairly long. I'd probably like a short story collection for shorter (if not lighter) fare. I'm guessing an anthology would be the best way to accommodate this, but I don't know which anthology to choose. (I haven't researched them because I haven't been in a position to be stuck on an island before.)
  • A dictionary (probably Oxford, but not the OED--that's cheating). Not only would I learn all the words in my books, but I could learn other words besides. Is a man ever alone if he has a dictionary?
Honorable mentions:
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is a beautiful book, and its heft would not make me feel like I'd be wasting my pick on it.
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. If only this book were longer! Then again, reading through it three times in a row might not be such a bad idea...
  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. Another book I could continually reread. A classic.
Which books would you take? What's missing from my list?


  1. The real question is: would you take an NLT or an NIV?

  2. I intentionally didn't reveal that. Are you trying to sow discord?!

  3. Wow. I'd take my Bible, of course (KJV, for those who'd want to know). As for the don't know. Possibly _The Brothers Karamazov_, although I haven't even finished reading it (I'm still working on it). Possibly _Desert Solitaire_ by Edward Abbey. Possibly a Strong's Concordance to help with studying the Bible. Possibly _The Scarlet Letter_ by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Possibly _The Crucible_ by Arthur Miller. Other than the Bible, I guess I really don't know. I haven't thought about this all that much.

  4. Oh, possibly my Shakespeare volume. That would probably be a decent idea. (As you can tell, I haven't narrowed any of this down to 5.)