My Desert Island Library

One desert island. 10 books. Which ones do you bring?

(Still no sign of my reality TV contract. I can’t imagine what’s taking so long.)

Anyway, over the course of the holidays, I stumbled across the website of One Grand, a bookstore that curates shelves based on the 10 books that various well-known/influential people would take with them to a desert island.

I find this scenario fascinating, even though the bookstore seems to be using it to rack up ridiculously expensive totals for books (check out the shelf prices on the site; some are positively eye-watering ). For one thing, the 10 books you’d bring with you to a remote island wouldn’t necessarily be the books you consider the 10 best books ever written, and they don’t have to be your favorites either. Given the situation, I think it’s fair to consider things like the experience of reading itself and things you want to read before you die.

That said, a lot of the books I ended up choosing are ones that would go on my favorites list. But not all of them are. Since I’m a very fast reader, I would need long books that have good reread value. Though common sense dictates that I should include at least one or two books on basic survival and shipbuilding, I can’t bring myself to waste a pick like that. Plus it’s missing the point of the exercise: choosing your companions when words are going to be your only company.

There’s a very good chance this list will change over time, so it might be fun to revisit in five years or so. But if someone was to tell me right now that I was getting marooned with limited carry-on space, this is what I’d make sure to pack.

  1. Emma by Jane Austen

Of all the Austens I’ve read, Emma is by far my favorite. It’s brilliant in all the ways a Jane Austen book usually is, notably in its dialogue, its depiction of society in all its nuance and absurdity, and its characterization. Emma’s character arc is some of the best-realized character development I’ve read, and it doesn’t hurt that Mr. Knightley is my favorite Austen hero by a wide margin.

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This book is a strong candidate for my favorite book of all time, and Jane is one of my favorite literary heroes, if not my actual favorite. Her courage, her goodness, and her assertion of her dignity no matter her circumstances are awe-inspiring, and the atmosphere and setting practically leap off the page.

  1. Cook & Peary by Robert M. Bryce

I know very little about these two and their rivalry beyond the ‘race to the North Pole’ aspect, but I love stories of polar exploration, and this is a positively gigantic book. Plus it would help me appreciate the ‘desert’ aspect of my surroundings a little more than I otherwise might.

  1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This book has everything – sordid family drama, melodramatic/tortured love, and some of the best explorations of moral questions that I’ve ever seen in fiction. There’s something new in it every time, making it ideal for rereads.

  1. The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

These stories were my bridge between reading as a child and reading as an adult, and they stoked my childhood love of mysteries to inferno-levels. Plus, I can’t think of any two characters who’d be better to spend time with than Holmes and Watson when immediate surroundings are a chore.

  1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I’m currently reading this one for the second time, and already finding so much that I didn’t catch the first time around. There are so many passages in it that take my breath away, and I think it will take many readings to wrap my head around the ideas, the language, and the insights that make up this powerful story. It also is one of a tiny handful of books that have made me cry – multiple times.

  1. Endurance by Alfred Lansing

Endurance is one of the most riveting stories in fiction or nonfiction that I’ve ever read. An expedition to the South Pole gets caught in the ice and then stranded on it when their ship is crushed. It’s the story of their journey back to civilization and the ideal book for reading when faced with the impossible.

  1. The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila

Two books that I’m counting as one, I’m currently reading the first and would like to make sure I can finish. She has one of the most accessible voices I’ve come across in my experiences with narratives from (literally) sanctified people. Her insights on the struggle of prayer, virtue, and faith are profound and unsettling – and she can be really funny.

  1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Another loophole pick, given that it’s usually three books, but one-volume copies exist, so I’m going to count it. Of course this was going to be on here. One of the most formative books of my life, with so many beautiful things in it, there’s no way I could leave it behind.

  1. The Illustrated Library of World Poetry

I’m acutely aware that I should be reading more poetry than I do, and a collection as big as the volume in question would give me a lot of variety to sink my teeth into, as well as plenty of alternatives when something doesn’t click.


10 thoughts on “My Desert Island Library

  1. Great list! But no Shakespeare? No cookbooks? No Patrick O’Brian? Now I’ve got to start thinking about my own list…

    • I can’t cook even with the benefits of modern equipment! I can’t imagine it’ll go better on a desert island. And leaving off Shakespeare was tough, but the poetry book has some of his stuff in it. Plus Shakespeare’s plays are better performed than read, I think.

  2. What an amazing list!! Emma is one of my favourite books of all time and definitely my favourite Austen too 😀 And I love Brothers Karamazov (I’d definitely take a Dostoevsky to a desert island), Jane Eyre, and LOTR too!! 😀

    • I feel so weird saying Emma is my favorite when I haven’t read all the Austens, but it’s just so incredible. You have excellent taste! Every time I reread Brothers K I think it can’t be as good as I remember, but it always is, haha. And Jane Eyre and LOTR are just so intertwined with my reading history at this point, I would have to bring them.


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