Friday, June 7, 2013

Ten Books for a Desert Island

The eternal question: which ten books would you want to have if you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life? This is what I'm pondering, as I stare down summer (yesterday, coincidentally, was the last day of the school year for my three sons). I have not yet read and will not ever get to read everything, but for me, today, this is the set of books I would choose.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Take a look at my list and comment below with books you think I would like, based on the books I'd be willing to read over and over for the rest of my life. There are no wrong answers! Your opinion counts around here!

Story Collections

It's a challenge to write a short description of a whole book of short stories, so I'll tell you the things these collections have in common: excellent prose, very strange circumstances in every story, menace and conflict within and without the characters, and my total envy because those people wrote these stories and I didn't.



The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. "Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would."

I like the darkness in this book: the idea that having tremendous, flexible, and very useful magical power cannot make a person happy. In fact, it makes most of these characters fall apart, but there's still some hope for their ability to learn from their numerous mistakes if they decide they want to. The gritty plot is convincing for me because I can easily believe in the corrupting power of the magic these young adults learn to do.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. "The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing."

The setting and characters in this book are as lush as the circus's French name—The Circus of Dreams—promises. Romance, magic, and beautifully-described settings make this a book to read again and again.

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. "...this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap..."
If nothing else were going for it, this book's structure and motion through time would be fascinating. However, it also features characters who seem real, despite their outlandish circumstances, and stunning prose with flourishes of humor that highlight the serious story and make me laugh out loud.

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers. "Only the dazzling imagination of Tim Powers could have assembled such an insane cast of characters: an ancient Egyptian sorcerer, a modern millionaire, a body-switching werewolf, a hideously deformed clown, a young woman disguised as a boy, a brainwashed Lord Byron, and finally, our hero, Professor Brendan Doyle."

I've loved this book for decades, and I will always love it. The hapless Brendan Doyle gets stuck in the past after doing an easy job that should boost his academic career, and then he doggedly pursues his goals while being ground down by both the normal conditions of life in Coleridge's time and the secret magic going on all around him in the underworld of London. Every single one of the vast array of plot threads is tied off perfectly by the end of the book. It's amazing.

More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon. "In this genre-bending novel, among the first to have launched science fiction into literature, a group of remarkable social outcasts band together for survival and discover that their combined powers render them superhuman. There's Lone, the simpleton who can hear other people's thoughts; Janie, who moves things without touching them; and the teleporting twins, who can travel ten feet or ten miles. There's Baby, who invented an antigravity engine while still in the cradle, and Gerry, who has everything it takes to run the world except for a conscience. Separately, they are talented freaks. Together, they may represent the next step in evolution -- or the final chapter in the history of the human race."

The above description is only the start of this book's charms. Not every modern reader will love everything about it, due to positive social changes that have occurred since it was written, but I enjoy this glimpse of the science fiction of the past, from a book that was first published in 1953.

Do you have any recommendations for me? Comment below!


Disclosure of Material Connection: None! I just love these books.


  1. Man does not live by bread alone, but one does have to first live.

    •The Way Things Work, MacAulay
    •The Making of Tools, Weygers
    •Building Classic Small Craft, Gardner
    •Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Euell Gibbons
    •Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, Euell Gibbons
    •Fieldbook of Natural History, Palmer
    •The Foxfire Book, Wiggington
    •ACEP First Aid Manual, Krohmer
    •The Barefoot Navigator, Lagan
    •SAS Survival Handbook: For Any Climate, in Any Situation, Wiseman

    1. Oh, good--this way I'll live to read my other desert island books! :)


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