Posted by: Jeanie F | October 15, 2009

The Desert Island Question

I’m not sure why the “What [food, book, friend, etc.] would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?” question always has us stranded on desert islands – why not tropical islands, or mountain tops, or the Chunnel? Still, as a traditionalist, I’ll keep us on a desert island and ask:

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you want to have with you? For me, they would be:

1. The Portable Dorothy Parker by (of course) Dorothy Parker. I don’t know how many times I’ve read and reread her stories, but the combination of humor and humanity always moves and entertains me. It’s amazing how relevant her stories remain because, in my opinion, they go beyond the merely topical to the universal.

2. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. First of all, this is a big book (624 pages) so it would keep me busy for a long time. And let’s face it – you really can’t read it without being grateful that you are ANYWHERE besides India in the 1970s, so my isolated desert island would look pretty good. Finally, the excellent writing and ability of these characters, who live in such desperate situations, to maintain “a fine balance between hope and despair” would inspire me to do the same.

3. The Angle of Respose by Wallace Stegner. One of my favorite books, a good story with finely drawn characters who feel like old friends. I’ve reread Angle many times, and it never gets old.

How about you? What would you want to have with you? Why?


  1. You’re not ging to like any of these… but I’ll throw them out there:
    Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: A Golf Book that is more about life than anything else.
    John Grisham’s The Broker because its about a guy running through Italy which is a country I really love.
    Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye because I’d have to have a character I can relate to and apparently I resemble Holden Caufield (Mrs. Sleeper told me so…)

  2. With all due respect to Mrs. Sleeper, you’re nothing like Holden Caufield…except, maybe, his smart ass sense of humor. I like your choices – Catcher is one of my favorite books, and I like John Grisham’s books, too. I have to admit, I HAVEN’T read the golf book!

  3. Stuck in the chunnel?! That made my claustrophoc heart stop-I was always nervous going through it. I haven’t read any on your list.

    Let’s see…my list would include…
    The Complete Works of Jane Austen
    Anna Karenina (I like it more than War & Peace!)
    and….A Suitable Boy

    I’m going for the chunkster strategy + variety of settings!

  4. If A Suitable Boy is a favorite, I recommend A Fine Balance. It is at least as good as A Suitable Boy (which I had forgotten about when I wrote my “Desert” list – thanks for the reminder!).

    I don’t know what it is about India – I really am not interested in traveling there – but I love to read about it! Maybe BECAUSE I don’t want to travel there, I just want to be an armchair traveler!

  5. I would definitely opt for the tropical island if I had the choice, but there would probably be enough diversions there that I wouldn’t need those great books to get me through!

    If stuck on the desert island, I would take A History of Love, because it’s probably my favorite novel of all time, The Baron in the Trees because it is so sweet and charming, and probably The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher. I realize the latter pick might be challenging on a desert island, but I so love her humanity and joy in experience, I think it would work for me.

  6. I LOVE The Art of Eating – such great essays. Did you ever read her book Among Friends about growing up as the only non-Quaker in Whittier? Also, Sister Age – beautiful thoughts on life and aging gracefully.

  7. I do want to go to India one of these days! 🙂 But A Fine Balance is on my Canada Challenge list-I’ll have to prioritise it if it’s as good as A Suitable Boy!

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