10 Books I Need On My Desert Island

What books would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

That’s the kind of question I can imagine being used as an ice-breaker in the first meeting of a book club. This week it’s the prompt for Top Ten Tuesday as hosted by ThatArtsyReaderGirl .

The thought of being washed up alone on any island terrifies me, especially if I had to share the space with snakes. Absurd to think I’d be relaxed enough to read!

But in the spirit of playing along with the idea, I’ve been thinking which books would make good companions.

For my desert island books I think I’d need a good mix: some rich in ideas so I can keep the brain stimulated; others that would help me forget the reality of my situation for a few hours. Since I’m likely to be feeling rather lonely I thought it would be helpful to have a few old literary friends at my side.

It was hard choosing just ten and I kept changing my mind about what to include. I suspect if you asked me this question next week or next month, I’d have a different list. But for now here is my set of 10 desert island books.

Desert Island Books: Old Favourites

1.Top of my desert island books list is a novel I’ve often described to people as “my desert island” choice. The idea comes from a long-running BBC Radio programme called “Desert Island Discs” where each week’s guest chooses eight pieces of music, one book and one luxury they could take to a desert island. My choice is Middlemarch by George Eliot. It’s not only lengthy it’s rich in ideas, with themes and concepts ranging from marriage and ambition to science and the connectivity of communities. I’ve read it at least eight times and I discover something new with each new reading.

2. I can’t hole up on an island without the comfort of knowing Jane Austen is at my side. But which Austen do I choose? I love Persuasion but I’m thinking Pride and Prejudice is a better option because it has a humorous element that’s missing from the former. Mrs Bennett is always good for a chuckle but I also relish the scenes featuring the clergyman Mr William Collins.

Stranded on a desert island? No problem, here are five books you'll want to have with you

Sticking with the classics for the moment, I’m opting next for Emile Zola. Ideally I’d love all 20 books in his famed Rougon-Marquet cycle but that would be cheating because they were never published as a collection. So I’m going to go for two titles from the series.

3. First up is the book that got me hooked on Zola: Germinal . This is a hard-hitting novel that focuses on the plight of coal workers in northern France. Zola takes us into their pitifully bare homes and down into the dangerous, stifling heat of the coal mines, showing the conditions that prompt the workers to go on strike.

4. Another Zola favourite is L”Assommoir, a tale about a woman’s struggle for happiness in working-class Paris. Gervais enjoys some success running her own laundry but her husband squanders her earnings with his frequent sessions in the local drinking shop. Gradually the pair sink into poverty and squalor.

5. It won’t be cheating though to take the Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, edited by Ann Thompson because that IS a published compendium. The texts of all Shakespeare’s plays, poems and sonnets in one volume — some I know, others I’ve never read nor seen performed. I could even stage my own performance with me as the lead (sadly solo) performer. Plenty of escapism and contemplative material in those 1300+ pages I think.

Desert Island Books: New Adventures

After all that heavy stuff, I need some light relief.

6. I’m opting for some P G Wodehouse, an author I’ve never read but I’m reliably informed is good for a chuckle. I thought I’d found the ideal choice — The Jeeves Omnibus but it’s split into four volumes and volume one contains just three stories, so I’ll have to pass. Instead I’ll go for Carry On, Jeeves  which is a collection of ten stories written in 1925.

7. This could be the moment to try Lord of The Rings once more. I last attempted it when I was at university and just about everyone I knew had read it. I gave up after about 50 pages. But it’s not considered a fantasy classic without good reason. At more than 1,000 pages I’m hoping it will see me through until I’m rescued. And if I really can’t get on with it, I’m sure it will come in useful for something…

Desert Island Books: Inspiration

I don’t know how long I’m going to be high and dry on this island but inevitably there will be times my morale will be at rock bottom. In those moments, it could be useful to seek inspiration from people who know a thing or two about overcoming obstacles.

8. Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s autobiography traces the origins of a man who was once regarded as a terrorist but then led his country to freedom. I first read this in 1994, the year it was published, and always meant to return to it, but somehow the years slipped by…

9. For an interesting pairing with Long Walk To Freedom, I’m going to choose The Promised Land by Barak Obama, another deeply personal account of a man who surmounted the odds to occupy the highest office in his country. Maybe by the time I finish it I’ll be back in civilisation and he’ll have finished volume 2?

Practicalities

Now my choices so far might be wonderful in offering me enlightenment about love, life, moral dilemmas and world affairs, but they will be of zero use in helping me survive on this island or getting off it, which would be preferable. I don’t have the natural survival skills exhibited by Tom Hanks in Castaway so I need an easy to follow guide.

10 Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction by Howard I Chapelle was my first choice but then I realise it required an unlimited supply of nails, saws, screws and hammers (I presume there are no DIY stores on this island??).

So I’m opting instead for the SAS Survival Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere by John Wiseman. It would teach me how to make a shelter and find food in the wild, what to do if I’m injured (falling coconuts can leave a nasty dent on the head) or encounter storms. I’ll skip the chapter on navigation skills since that’s a bit redundant without a boat or a canoe..

Do you have any favourite holiday reading memories? I’d love to hear which places have been special for you so just pop a comment in the box below. Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules and the list of topics visit the Top Ten Tuesday page on her blog.

 

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

46 thoughts on “10 Books I Need On My Desert Island

  • July 31, 2021 at 10:31 pm
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    I struggled through The Hobbit but quickly gave up on Lord of the Rings, life being too short and all that, but like you I’m a Zola fan. I hope you enjoy the Wodehouse when you get around to it.

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    • August 1, 2021 at 11:18 am
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      I didn’t even read The Hobbit !
      Great to know you are a Zola fan too – are you reading the Rougon Macquet cycle or have you already completed it?

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      • August 3, 2021 at 10:59 pm
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        I’ve read seven of the Rougon Macquet cycle so I have quite a way to go!

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        • August 5, 2021 at 9:13 pm
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          I’ve read seven also so unless I speed up somewhat I’ll still be reading them in about 2030…

  • July 29, 2021 at 12:33 pm
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    Yours may be the most well-thought out list I’ve seen. You’ve inspired me to put Middlemarch back on my list for a reread, and I’m happy to see L’Assommoir as a book you’d love to read again. Perhaps I need to look for Germinal now.

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    • July 29, 2021 at 5:26 pm
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      Germinal is even bleaker than L’Assommoir. It was on the syllabus for an open university course I did and it made me so angrythat people were treated in the way Zola described. But I know it was true because he had gone to northern france and spent time with the families doing extensive research

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  • July 29, 2021 at 3:55 am
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    Ha! I love your combination – very pragmatic! I put together a list of desert island books ages ago, it really needs updating. I think I’d also take Middlemarch – in the hopes of finally actually getting around to reading it – and Pride And Prejudice is a great pick, too. I’d want editions with lots of end-papers, in case I need kindling to build a fire!

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    • July 29, 2021 at 9:48 am
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      I hadn’t thought about the end papers. I’d need them to keep notes so I could write all those reviews when I got home!

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  • July 28, 2021 at 7:38 pm
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    I reckon the SAS Survival book would be essential. As for anything else – I would never be able to decide!!

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    • July 28, 2021 at 9:35 pm
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      I’ve changed my mind about my list twice in less than 24 hours!. It’s the same when I was packing for holiday – could never decide which books to take

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    • July 28, 2021 at 9:39 pm
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      I laughed at the lists that included cookery books – one smart person had chosen a BBQ book but someone else had French cookery which I thought was ambitious.
      Just left a comment on your post….

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    • July 28, 2021 at 6:01 pm
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      Thats good to know Stefani, though of course I hope never to be stuck on any island….

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    • July 28, 2021 at 6:03 pm
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      Thanks Derrick, have you thought what would be on your list?

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      • July 28, 2021 at 8:07 pm
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        Sorry – I haven’t really. The Wind in the Willows would be a cert, though. I don’t think I’m practical enough to try the boat-building one.

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        • July 28, 2021 at 9:34 pm
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          Wind In the Willows would be a lovely book to help you forget your predicament

  • July 28, 2021 at 2:19 am
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    I absolutely loved your post and your reasons for selecting these books. Zola seems to very depressing while Middle March is a book I just couldn’t get into.

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    • July 28, 2021 at 2:58 am
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      You have me thinking now. I learned this year how hard it is to focus under stress, and how much I had taken reading books for granted. Since stress and lack of focus might be part of the life on that island, I would need distractions. The Complete Short Stories of Saki (H.H. Munroe) and The Most of P.G. Wodehouse would provide distraction and diversion. I’d need a couple of Rosamund Lupton’s thrillers to distract me, and Bella Figura by Kamin Mohammadi to keep me focused. A few uplifting classics would be good. I’m not sure which yet but they will be those I can reread again and again.

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      • July 28, 2021 at 10:24 am
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        We all learned things about ourselves because of the pandemic and what is truly important to us. I realised I had taken for granted the pleasure of meeting up with a friend for a coffee and chat…

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    • July 28, 2021 at 10:21 am
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      Middlemarch is very slow at the beginning so I’m. It surprised it didn’t engage you. My suggestion to everyone who struggles with it is to read it as if it were a soap operas.

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  • July 28, 2021 at 12:19 am
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    Other than the quiet and the endless time to read, I don’t think I’d really want to be stranded on a desert island! I sunburn really easily, have no survival skills, and don’t like snakes and other creepy animals. I wouldn’t last long, that’s for sure 🙂

    Happy TTT!

    Susan
    http://www.blogginboutbooks.com

    Reply
    • July 27, 2021 at 10:21 pm
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      And I debated War and Peace but then remembered how much I had disliked all those battle scenes

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      • July 28, 2021 at 1:10 am
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        LOL. I’ve never made it thru the Hobbit or LOTR but I find Tolkein personally to be very interesting. And, I love the Letters to Father Christmas.

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    • July 27, 2021 at 10:27 pm
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      It’s such a good book Lydia – very insightful about the man’s character but also about the ANC and what they wanted to achieve

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  • July 27, 2021 at 8:59 pm
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    I like how you broke out your books, because those were some of the categories I thought about too. I didn’t include any nonfiction but inspirational reads are a great idea. Middlemarch was one of my choices as well. I’ve read it once and loved it, but I think there’s so much more I could get from a reread (and lots of time on my hands). I have to agree with Lory on LOTR – I’m bringing only known favorites with me.

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    • July 27, 2021 at 10:28 pm
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      Yes Middlemarch does reward re-reading. I often tell people that you can read it as if it was a soap opera, but then you can read it on a different occasion as a novel about ambition, or a novel about marriage.

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  • July 27, 2021 at 8:44 pm
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    I’m determined to re-engage with Middlemarch, I’m like you with the first few tens of pages of LOTR where it feels like a leaden weight round the neck before it gets going. (I’m hoping to persuade you otherwise as I work through my #TalkingTolkien series, but I’m sure I’ll love the Eliot when I knuckle down.)

    As for Austen, I’ve read P&P (in fact all her published novels) but I’d more fancy a reread of Mansfield Park at the present, but first I need to read the juvenilia before re-embarking on the series. As for Paris-based novels, I rather fancy Jean Rhys’ short novels or novellas set in that city in the early 20th century more than any 19th-century ones. Sorry, Zola…

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    • July 27, 2021 at 10:30 pm
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      I’m not in love with Mansfield Park sorry.
      I shall await your TalkingTolkein series with great interest – who knows, you might make a convert of me !

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      • July 27, 2021 at 10:38 pm
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        Don’t mistake me, I’m not enamoured with MP, more intrigued with the issues it raises, such as bullying, the status of women, hypocrisy, slavery and so on. And the #TalkingTolkien series I started two or three months ago and already have five or more posts out! But I don’t believe in forced conversion, I think you may be right to go with your gut instinct — and there are plenty of other worthy and even worthier titles out there which you may prefer to engage with! 🙂

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  • July 27, 2021 at 7:30 pm
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    Well played1 I’ve tried to do this with music as I simply can’t seem to make a decision with books–although the complete Inspector Gamache series is one that I could read from start to finish again, without any trouble. With music I think my choices involved musical theatre original cast recordings, so that I can stay busy singing along (and no one has to bear listening to me)>

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    • July 27, 2021 at 10:32 pm
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      I could happily re-read Inspector Gamache too though I still have a few to read for the first time. I’d be afraid to start singing in case any passing ships heard it and mistook the noise for a whale in distress!

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  • July 27, 2021 at 7:14 pm
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    I love your choices and rationale, but I have to say if you don’t already know you’ll love LOTR, you might find it unbearable to find you’d used one of your precious slots for something you are just going to use to start fires with. Better check it out first.

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    • July 27, 2021 at 10:33 pm
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      That’s sound advice Lory. One day I shall have to try it out

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    • July 27, 2021 at 10:33 pm
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      It was fun to do though I am already regretting some books never made the list. I think I could easily do a second list of 10

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      • July 27, 2021 at 11:17 pm
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        Right?! Lists are so difficult! I always overthink and rethink mine!

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      • July 28, 2021 at 2:35 am
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        It never occurred to me there might be snakes on a desert island. The big problem is, if it’s desert is there water?

        I might have used Robinson Crusoe for hints, and it would never occur to me to take books I didn’t know. I read a bit of Wodehouse years ago and I’m afraid I found the humour too forced. There are many better, but if forced to name one I’d say Rumpole.

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        • July 28, 2021 at 10:27 am
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          Well it’s an island so there’s plenty of sea water but I think what you’re asking is whether there is drinkable water. Good point, since without that we wouldn’t survive long enough to read 10 books. I don’t know why the question is always framed as a desert is,and rather than just any island, but that’s the game so I just ignored the literal interpretation.

      • July 28, 2021 at 8:14 am
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        I usually always rethink or recreate my lists!

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        • July 28, 2021 at 6:05 pm
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          Good to know I am not the only one to keep changing my mind

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