Saturday, February 23, 2008

Five books

Winslow Homer, The New Novel

One of the ladies in my book group gave us all the assignment to think of the five books we would take with us to a desert island. We’ll assume that a set of scriptures has already washed ashore on the beach. Also assume that you can’t take a book called “How to get off a desert island in 101 easy lessons” (just in case you were going to get clever).

This was an agonizingly difficult assignment. I decided in the end to pick books that I wouldn’t mind reading over and over for the next 20 years or so. Otherwise I might have been tempted just to pick five books with lots and lots of pages for their, shall we say, personal hygiene potential.

Here are the five books I came up with:

1. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think this book should be required reading for the whole human race. So there.

2. Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems
If I’m going to be stuck on an island, I want something inexhaustible in terms of truth and beauty. Dickinson’s poems supply both. Plus maybe after a couple of decades of focused study, I’ll finally be able to understand all of them.

3. “The Death of Ivan Ilyitch” by Leo Tolstoy
This is either a long short story or a short novel. I’ve already read it dozens of times but it still moves me as only a story about a man who realizes in his last hours that his life has been utterly meaningless can. It’s an inspiring cautionary tale.

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
This is a relatively new love of mine. I’ve taught it in my Humanities classes for two years now and I’m always amazed at the wide variety of discussions it sparks each time. This would be a perfect book if I were stranded on an island along with a bunch of other people who also took Frankenstein with them. Or maybe I’ll just start talking to myself about it in my own personal one-woman book group. Or I could find a literate volleyball to befriend or something.

5. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Everyone needs a book to turn to for sheer entertainment purposes. If I get too depressed about being far away from all my loved ones and the land of Twix bars, this book would soon have me ROSL (Rolling on the Sand Laughing).

There. I can’t say it’s a perfect list but it will do for now.

I’m curious. What 5 books (or even one or two for starters) would you take with you?


tjhirst said...

I'd take something by Tolstoy, too, probably Anna Karenina. I love Russian literature--so much truth and real consequences that create stories with unlimited depth.

Hmm . . . a second one? . . . The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Idealism and passion to keep me motivated.

Annette Lyon said...

Great list--except maybe Tolstoy. I've never enjoyed him. My list would probably include The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, and something by Dickens and CS Lewis.

I like the poetry idea. If I did that, it'd probably be John Donne--he's got so much depth, it might take me several years to understand all the layers and beauty.

Luisa Perkins said...

This is a GREAT list; I love all of those.

I would have to include Gone With the Wind. Having read it at least 15-20 times since the summer I was 10, I think it's safe to say I'll never get sick of it.

My poetry choice would be Gerard Manley Hopkins. I'd round out the bundle with Pilgrim's Progress, The Lord of the Rings, and Mark Helprin's Soldier of the Great War.

allysha said...

Pride & Prejudice, because it's just so dang funny-

Something by Edith Wharton for more insightful human critique and little tragedies-

Hamlet, because there are so many ways to read it-

The Harry Potter series (can that count as one?) for some lighthearted stuff-

An internet connection so I can get to the blogosphere...(I know, not a book~ but sort of...)

Dedee said...

Hm. I like agree with you on Frankle. I find that an amazing book. In fact, since you reminded me of it, I'm going to go read it again.

And the Princess Bride is laugh out loud funny. Although my 10 year old started reading it (she's never seen the movie) and got freaked out by the machine.

I really can't think about what I would take. Les Miserables? The complete works of CS Lewis. I'm sure I can get that in a single book form. That counts.

Annie said...

Hi there. Delurking to comment on this great post. I'm a fan on your list, although I'm not sure I love Tolstoy enough to take him to a desert island.

I'd add something by Stegner...Angle of Repose? Crossing to Safety? Big Rock Candy Mountain? And throw in some John Milton compendium that included Paradise Lost and his poems. Just because I've always loved his language.

Now I need to re-read some of these books mentioned here and in comments!

edj said...

I would include the Complete Works of William Shakespeare--that'd keep me busy for a long time :)
And yes, that would too count as one book!
And then...oh I don't know. I don't have time.

Marni said...

I love Frankenstein too! I mentioned that to someone earlier and got a funny look even though she'd read it. Most people have a pre-concieved idea that is totally off what the real story is about. I had a college professor that used it in two of the classes I took from him. He always called it a romance novel. :)

I would probably say Les Miserables (the full version, since I haven't read that yet but the other several times), Watership Down, Tess of the D'Urbervilles... Maybe Lord of the Flies? Bwa-ha-ha!

LaDonnaMobile said...

I would be fine if all I had were the books in the "Little Britches" series--everything from history, humor, and religion to philosophy, cooking, and rodeo--the perfect collections for a bored islander! :)