This week on Keeping Up With The Penguins, I’m tackling one of those dinner party questions that haunts every bookworm: what’s your desert island book? I was inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild; she trekked over a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, carrying with her Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language (which she described as her “religion”), and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, among others. It led me to think long and hard about what book I’d want with me if I were lost in the wilderness. I asked KUWTP readers this very question a couple of weeks ago (by the way, are you keeping up on Facebook and Instagram?), and got some fascinating responses!
It’s tough enough to imagine a situation where you’re stuck on a desert island indefinitely, with just a single book – but there are many factors to consider. Do you take your favourite book? Do you take a really heavy read, one that you’ve been putting off, so that you can capitalise on all that uninterrupted reading time? Maybe you want to choose a really light and funny book that will take your mind off your troubles. Of course, you could think laterally, and take a really thick book with lots of pages, so you can pull out as many as you need to use as kindling for a fire. The KUWTP community came up with a bunch of options for each, so let’s take a look at the definitive KUWTP Desert Island Book List.
Ulysses – James Joyce
This one was my idea, mostly because I suspected that being trapped alone on a desert island, with no other entertainment, might be the only circumstances under which I could motivate myself to finish the notoriously unreadable Ulysses. Unfortunately for me, it ended up on my reading list, and it took me a while but eventually I gave it a go. Still, I wasn’t the only one to nominate Joyce’s seminal work as my desert island book for that reason, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone!
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote was the most popular choice, which took me by surprise! A whole bunch of readers chose this weighty 17th century tome (most editions run to almost 1,000 pages), out of the blue as best I could tell. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, though – I later learned that Don Quixote is the best-selling single-volume book of all time. With over 500 million copies in circulation, it seems inevitable that at least a few would end up on desert islands… (More fun facts in my review here.)
Collected Works – William Shakespeare
There were a few creative “cheat” choices (among them the Harry Potter series, and the collected works of Charles Dickens), but I think this one technically passes free and clear because it can frequently be found in a single volume (indeed, I own two of them). The Collected Works of William Shakespeare would certainly keep you going for a while, and it covers all manner of genres and storylines, so you can pick whatever you’re in the mood for: comedy, history, tragedy, romance…
Lord Of The Flies – William Golding
I loved this suggestion, purely for the irony: stuck on a desert island, with nothing to read but a book about a bunch of boys stuck on a desert island (that ends pretty badly to boot). Ha! I didn’t love this book, but if nothing else, Lord Of The Flies would make a good what-not-to-do manual. Fingers crossed the KUWTP readers that chose this for their desert island read wouldn’t take the story too literally (lest a few pigs meet unkind ends)…
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
As one reader cleverly deduced, one of the most distressing parts of being stuck on a desert island would surely be the intolerable heat. Thus, ever so wisely, she named Wuthering Heights as her desert island book. A story full of chilly winter nights on sweeping moors, complete with howling winds and stiff breezes, would be the perfect antidote to scorching island sun. I almost considered taking this answer for my own, because I didn’t love Wuthering Heights the first time around, and I’ve been meaning to re-read it – deserted on an island would be the perfect opportunity!
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
This was, undoubtedly, the cutest choice for a desert island book! Charlotte’s Web would be the perfect cosy, feel-good read, full of childhood nostalgia, to comfort you in your lonely hours. Plus, if I had the chance to ask the desert-island-book-fairy for an audiobook, I’d definitely want the version read by E.B. White himself – could there be anything better?
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Now, this one came out of left field, but the more I looked at it, the more sense it made. A dear friend of mine (who is also, of course, a dedicated KUWTP reader) said that she’d choose Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram – an Australian novel, published in 2003. It tells the story of a convicted bank robber and heroin addict, who manages to escape prison and flee to Mumbai, India. Coming in at some 900 pages, it’s another desert island book that would keep you entertained for quite a while, if the rescue boat is slow in getting to you. In the end, I had to concede, it’s an excellent call!
Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett
I saved my favourite choice for last: Samuel Beckett’s tragi-comedy, Waiting For Godot. This play tells the story of two characters who are waiting for the arrival of a bloke named Godot (thus, the title – der). The ultimate joke is, of course, that he never turns up. Perhaps, if I were actually in the desert-island situation, a book that so closely mirrors my own experience of waiting for rescue without a happy ending wouldn’t be so great for my mental health… but as it stands, I think it’s a fucking hilarious answer, and I’m going to steal it for my own from now on.
So, what’s your desert island book? What do you think of the ones suggested here? Let me know in the comments (or join the conversation over at KUWTP on Facebook!).