Four Books for a Desert Island

If I’m ever really stranded on a desert island, the books I want to have with me must have titles like Raft Building for Dummies, 500 Ways to Cook Coconuts, Getting Along with Your Invisible Friends, and of course, How to Escape a Desert Island.

For that desert island visit with a small working sailboat, I want these four books instead.

image-of-invisible-cities-book-cover.jpgInvisible Cities by Italo Calvino

This book introduced me to Calvino, one of the great fabulists of the 20th Century.  Reading more like a prose poem than a novel with a plot, it is essentially a dialog in gestures and signs between Marco Polo and Genghis Khan as the explorer describes the empire of cities to its emperor.  Brief and beautiful. 

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

To me, this is one of the greatest love stories ever told.  Two men love the same woman, and when one dies, the other one steps up to take his rightful place.  But will she have him?
image-of-ulysses-book-cover.jpgUlysses by James Joyce

Joyce recreates 1904 Dublin in such detail I could reread this a hundred times and find new alleys and old friends each visit.


Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchonimage-of-mason-dixon-book.jpg

My favorite historical buddy novel.  Mason and Dixon create the line that divides north from south in the American colonies, meeting some of the stranger Founding Fathers, a Learned English Dog, a mechanical duck and the French chef who chases him… you get the idea.

How about you? What are your desert island books?

6 thoughts on “Four Books for a Desert Island”

  1. This question always stumps me, because I’m not one to re-read books (even though I do believe that you bring something new to a book each time you read it). So, then, should I bring the four books on the top of my current reading stack? Or should I revisit old friends? Here’s one thing I know: I’m packing The Essential Calvin and Hobbes.

  2. I would have to bring along The Sex Lives of Cannibals: adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost cause not only does it make you feel greatful for where you are it makes you laugh till the very end.

  3. I think you’re spot on about Calvino. Invisible Cities is an excellent and beautiful booK- and the short chapters make it the perfect bedside table book as well. Though If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller is the better book its aim is to frustrate the reader and I would probably throw it into the ocean if I were stranded on a desert island with it (and immediately reach for the Calvin and Hobbes). Sometimes I feel like I will be happily reading and rereading Invisible Cities for the rest of my life!

    You’re dead wrong about Ulysses, though. I sat through twenty minutes of Ulysses read aloud… I would have prefered the desert island.

    I’ve really appreciated the topics of your posts, keep ’em coming.

  4. Comics, cannibals, and another Calvino fan. What a great selection! Perhaps we need Calvino and Hobbes?

    Another Calvino book I would read and reread would be The Baron in the Trees. It’s about an Italian noble in the Renaissance who decides he will live above the earth and then goes on to spend the rest of his life traveling and living up in various trees, but in a way that befits his noble station.

  5. Thanks to Wally for a stimulating post. I entirely endorse his choice of Ulysses: a great and very entertaining book. As a good introduction to Joyce I can recommend Anthony Burgess’s book Here Comes Everybody: an Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader.

    My own desert island books (apart from 1000 Things to do with a Coconut,) might include:
    The complete works of Shakespeare
    A good collection of poetry, probably one of the Oxford Books of Verse; or, for a single poet, The Collected Poems of W.H. Auden.
    The Thurber Carnival, by James Thurber (you would need some humor, and Thurber for me is the greatest.)
    War and Peace.
    And one exra: One of John Mortimer’s collections of Rumpole stories.

  6. 4 books 4 ever? I have to agree with Stan on the Complete Works of Shakespeare. I reread books, but with only 4 they had best be long. Not having read Ulysses (although I’ve read some of Finnegan’s Wake) I’d substitute The Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (or as many of the volumes as have been put in one binding). Not only is his writing dense, but he destroys time and fires enough memory triggers so that you remember, in counterpoint, much of your own life. Stan’s poetry compilation might work in this sense too. I have seen all of The Lord of the Rings in one book and having stopped counting 20 years ago at 13 readings I know that it delivers time after time (Brothers Karamazov instead?). Humor books are so short. Perhaps both Pooh titles in one book (exists) for perspective.

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