Posted by: Lizzie Ross | October 8, 2010

Desert Island Booklist


Small boat, big sea


I’m sure I’m not the only one to imagine myself being interviewed for shows like Desert Island Disks and Mad About Music. I like to picture myself sitting comfortably across from Gilbert Kaplan and shocking him with my Wild Card choice. Or having a heart-to-heart with Kirsty Young about the unacknowledged genius of the Jim Kweskin Band and the original line-up for Fleetwood Mac.

Nevermind that if I were really stuck on an island, the first thing I’d wish for is a yacht and crew.

But for today, the NAIWE question is essentially Desert Island Books: If you were stranded alone on a deserted island, what five books would you want?

OK, let’s assume 1) that I’m already conveniently supplied with a book on do-it-yourself medical care (complete with anti-venom for the local snakes and some kind of sulfanilamide injections, just in case) and that my appendix has been removed. And 2) that I have the most up-to-date and complete version of the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Special Topic: Deserted Island (with sections on building a shelter, weapons design and construction, killing and preparing food, identifying edible palm tree foliage and fruit, etc.).

Because if I don’t have these, they’d be first on my list of must-have books.

But on to the fun part. And this is actually easy. Here’s my list of 5 can’t-live-without-them “books”.

1. Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust, Moncrieff’s translation), all 8 parts.

2. Collected Writings of Mark Twain (including Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, as well as novellas, short stories, and selected letters.

3. WG Sebald’s: The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz, combined into one volume.

4. A four-volume set of Tolkien, including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. Now that I think of it, add a 5th volume, with Tolkien’s shorter works (Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major, etc.)–just to round things out.

5. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

These give me history, hefty reads, stylistic and conceptual challenges that will never grow tiresome, fantasy, humor, a bit of romance — in short, all the stuff that makes me keep picking up books to see what they have to offer.

Nancy Mitford wrote that her father once read a book and was so satisfied by the experience that he never felt the need to repeat it.

That is most assuredly not me. If I must face that deserted island experience, I’d better have my five faves. Oh, and that yacht.


  1. Ooooh, I like the 4-volume set of Tolkien even better than my choice… a single-volume Lord of the Rings. Mark Twain collection sounds fabulous too. 🙂

  2. I figure, if I’m going to be trapped on that island, I should be able to define what “book” means, right?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: