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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.

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?


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.


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