Friday, July 1, 2011

Desert Island Books

There was a time in France when it seemed wise to hop the next train from Paris to Marseille and then points south. And it was late afternoon and the train would arrive in Nice around midnight.

My seat was on one side and across the aisle there was seating for four. Directly across from me there were two men and a woman. They talked the whole way. But rudely, you know – in French. With absolutely no consideration that the person on the other side of aisle had only basics enough to order a ham sandwich, call a taxi, and say my husband will be arriving early tomorrow morning. Not necessarily in that order.

I hadn’t slept in two days. And usually the motion of a train is so soothing. But my brain kept trying to puzzle out the conversation on the other side of the aisle.

Worse, the woman was very animated, with “Oooo, la,” and “Non!” and “Oui, oui, oui.” I couldn’t puzzle out a story based only on punctuation.

Torture. Those were probably the most irritating hours of my life.

So that’s why Finnegan’s Wake is off my list.

Washed up on shore, with plenty of food, potable water, dry clothes, and eyeliner, I need these five books to survive:

Marcel Pagnol: My Father’s Glory, My Mother’s Castle
Defoe: Moll Flanders
Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Wind in the Willows
A dictionary

And then, what ho? Another box washes on shore with E.B. White, Huckleberry Finn, and a Secret Garden. Oh, that’s cheating, I know.

Well, let’s crack that coconut. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Gimme your top five. Oh, please. Because I love to read, I almost live to read. But most especially. I love to read in summer.


  1. I don't have a top five; it all depends on my mood.

    Five classics that everyone should read is another thing.

    1: Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

    2: And the Ass saw the Angel - Nick Cave

    3: Siddhartha - Herman Hesse

    4: The Mulatta and Mister Fly - Miguel Angel Asturius

    5: Falstaff: A Novel - Robert Nye

  2. 1) Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar--
    I've never finished it, and there's two different ways of reading the book--straight through, or skipping along chapters, as directed at the end of each. Perfect for the desert island
    2) Dickens!!!
    3) The Count of Monte Cristo. Hey, he was France's James Patterson, yanno. (including the subcontractor writers-for-hire)
    4) The Master and Margarita
    5)Human Cargo. No, really--check it out on Amazon ;)

  3. Too hot to do anything today but copy and paste an established list:

    The Honourable Schoolboy-John Le Carre
    Working-Studs Turkel
    Anger-Thich Nacht Hanh
    The Boat-Nam Le
    Hell's Angels-Hunter S. Thompson
    The Elephants Journey-Jose Saramago
    The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray-Walter Mosley
    Webster's Unabridged Dictionary

    Oh, my - that's more than five. Well, drop the dictionary and try to pick up new words from context, or just nod your head and look smug. Or drop Hell's Angels - but then replace it with Fear and Loathing? Maybe better than "smug", if one is hard-pressed.

  4. The complete works of Shakespeare. If I can't decide which edition to take, I'll take the first folio and skip all the editors.

    Plutarch's Lives.

    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

    Empire Falls by Richard Russo.

    I thought I might take the Norton Anthology of English Literature. Is that cheating? Maybe so. And Gardner's Grendel isn't in it, so I'll take Grendel.

    May I also have piles and piles of paper and an infinite supply of writing utensils?

  5. It's impossible to limit it to a Fab Five.
    But I do get a sense not many of your books would have pictures in them. So, probably a textbook would be another companion on your trip to the desert island.

  6. I think length would be the primary criterion.
    War and Peace
    The Idiot
    Les Miserables
    Infinite Jest
    Suitable Boy

  7. I was hoping I would have more time to figure this out but here goes, in no particular order but definitely a reflection of my present state of mind:

    1-An atlas
    2-A book about the flora and fauna of the island - there's always something gadding about, even in the desert
    3-A novel long and involved that I've never read and probably wouldn't otherwise, you fill in the blank.
    4-The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
    5-The Big Over Easy or The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

  8. Actually, I recommend you cheat and take all of the Nursery Crimes and Thursday Next novels or you'll just go mad wondering what happened next.

  9. Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave.
    Taylor Caldwell's Captains and the Kings.
    The rest depend upon my mood! But if the island's deserted, they should be long, with a good story line. Maybe Gone With the Wind, too.

  10. I can think of five other things than books on that desert island: a hammer, a saw, an axe, some nails and some matches.

    To build a palace with a fireplace inside!

  11. 5 is too hard and my mind can't quite wrap around forever on an island but here are a few I'd recommend just for summer reading fun:

    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
    Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
    Peace Like a River by Lief Enger
    Anything by David Sedaris
    And, a food read, just because it's me: The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

  12. Sorry - forgot one more recent summer reading favorite: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

  13. Desiree: I was just thinking about the novel Hopscotch yesterday. I was. True Story

    1. A book on how to play the ukulele. I plan on bringing a ukulele.

    2. John James Audubon's "Birds of America" (one of the few original copies) It's my fantasy and I want something beautiful that displays remarkable technique. Must include a protective cover.

    3. A book on survival that includes how to make a shelter, medical advice, how to start a fire, sunscreen, bug spray alternatives, kill, weapons and how to build a boat. (the practical side of me)

    4. Simulacra and Simulation: Jean Baudrillard (that book gave me fits)

    5. The Solace of Open Spaces: Gretel Erhlich (that book made me hum)

    6. a sketch book for my art supplies

  14. I bow in your general direction. Half of these I've read (or to be honest, started), but half I've never even heard of. Drawing up my summer reading list from your picks. Bring on the long hot summer.

  15. I told you that if I ever have a boat I'm naming it Finnegan's Wake, right? Really, it's the only reason I would even want a boat.

  16. I'm getting all kinds of great ideas, so thanks KB.

    PA, I have a copy of Birds of America, 435 illustrations, but, alas, not an original copy. You remind me that I must be more ambitious, demand more of the universe.

    wv mistrial

  17. I was thinking of Audubon's "Birds of North America", too, PA! I have a copy - and Hiroshige's birds and flowers. (a collection exists, published by George Braziller, Inc.)

  18. Some good ideas here, such as Complete Shakespeare (for King Lear, Hamlet, Henry IV, both parts, and As You Like It) and Norton Anthology.

    Collected Stories by
    Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor, Faulkner.

    I'm hoping I remember Gatsby and Slaughterhouse Five well enough not to need the actual books on the island. High roller here.

  19. These aren't necessarily my favorite books ever, but here are 5 that I would bring to the island:

    1. Cowboys Are My Weakness - Pam Houston. Great short stories about strong women, bad men and good dogs.

    2. Shopgirl - Steve Martin. Ok so I've been in love with Steve Martin since I saw him perform in 1977 when I was 13, but this is a delightful little book.

    3. A Week at the Airport - Alain de Botton. Crazy at it sounds to want to bring a book about spending a week at Heathrow to an island, I found this short book to be completely charming and makes me want to spend more time in airports looking for the stories that lurk there.

    4. Fup - Jim Dodge. This actually is one of my favorite books ever. Only 59 pages but wow, what a story! About a kid named Tiny, his Granddaddy Jake, and a duck named Fup. Yep, Fup duck. A true northern-California classic tale.

    5. The Postcard Century: 2000 Cards and Their Messages - Tom Phillips. The amazing postcard collection of British artist Tom Phillips is a staggeringly awesome trip from 1900 to 1999 through postcards.

  20. Some juveline books have come to mind:
    1-Island of the Blue Dolphins
    2-Hatchet and other books by Gary Paulsen
    3-Julie of the Wolves
    4-Tuck Everlasting
    5-Across Five Aprils

    You could just work your way through the Newbery and Caldecott Medal Award winners. You simply couldn't go wrong.

  21. Egads, this is too hard for my brain when I'm so distracted by the notion of dinner, exacerbated by all your fancy talk of ham sandwiches and coconuts. I like your choices, KB. I give a particular tick to The Wind in the Willows.

  22. That's ok Shell, I've got plenty to keep me busy. A Week at the Airport sounds so quirky, I might start there, followed by Hopscotch. The Solace of Open Spaces is a beautiful title, Bel Canto...

    Paula, you're so right. Island of the Blue Dolphins.

  23. "There is nothing--absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
    - Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.

    A bird book - a must.
    Terry Tempest Williams "Refuge"
    Peter Mayle "A Year in Provence"
    Tracy Kidder "Soul of a New Machine"

  24. Katie!
    LOVE Alain de Bottin--I think a desert isle book of his would also have to be The Consolations of Philosophy. Quite enlightening, and quite bittersweet

  25. Liked the intermission ... looked like the New Year’s Eve to me.

  26. Brenda, that is one of the greatest lines in English Lit. I remember reading The Wind in the Willows in 3rd grade and learning the word "facetious." What a revelation -- that you could say one thing and mean another.

  27. So how was the intermission? (wink)

  28. OK , five-plus:

    1. Middlemarch - always so intense and fresh. Even when I re-read it (every 18 month or so), new things emerge - it never has that air of inevitability: maybe this time, she won't make that choice...
    2. 100 Years of Solitude - "the world was so new then that most of the things in it did not yet have names, and in order to indicate an object it was necessary to point"
    3. The Amazing Bone
    4. An atlas, one with a lot of different sorts of maps. Really, you can while away the hours.
    5. A Glass of Blessing - Barbara Pym's most subtle book. Happy sigh.
    6. Life Ascending, the Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, which I recently finished and then immediately turned back to the front page to reread. Thrilling.

    And for my "what ho" floating box, a Sibley bird guide suitable to the locale, and another floating box with a goddamn motor boat and sunblock and binocs and fishing tackle and a GPS in it. Seriously, dude. I can read anywhere - we've got places to be.

  29. Oh Marion, what an intelligent What Ho. Since I love 100 Years, I'm going to have to sample your others. Picked up three earlier rec's at the library today and wondered why I'm absolutely incapable of returning books on time. I go to the library with a handful of dollars and just say, "How much?"

  30. I discovered this post two days ago and have been trying to think of my five ever since! This is hard! Here goes:

    The Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
    The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner
    Norwegian Wood by Murakami
    War and Peace

    And I love the idea of an atlas. Or a poetry anthology.

  31. I can't think in this heat, so I'm drawing a blank. But a movie comes to mind: have you seen "Sugar"? I know that won't help you on the island and it's probably sacrilege to mention a movie when people are talking books but I loved this little film.

    I need a sabbatical to work my way through these book suggestions.

  32. I love Sara's comment. I've read all your books EXCEPT Norwegian Wood, so that goes on the list.

    Susan, maybe there was a DVD player in the What Ho! box.

  33. This kept me awake last night (after I was rudely awakened by a buzzing police helicopter at 3 a.m.)!

    Can't do five, so I'll double down, in no particular order. My criteria: Plot you can't put down and characters you mourn after the book is done and never forget thereafter.

    Weightier tomes:

    An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

    The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

    Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey

    Germinal, Emile Zola

    Love in the Time of Cholera, Garcia-Marquez (since someone already mentioned 100 Years of Solitude)

    Lighter fare:

    Anne of Green Gables
    How Green Was My Valley
    All Creatures Great and Small (and the others in Herriott's series)
    Gone With the Wind
    And Ladies of the Club
    The Glass Castle (I'll cheat and throw this one in because it is a total page turner and I met the author, who is a superlative person!)