Just for Fun: What Book Would You Take to a Desert Island?

By Carole Reedy

January is a healing month: time to start again, correct mistakes, renew promises. For readers, it brings the joy of new books by favorite authors and newcomers alike. It’s also a time to reflect and ponder favorite books from years past. I asked a diverse group of people to do just that: What book would you take to a desert island? In other words, what book could you read over and over?

A variety of avid readers from all over the world have responded to my question. Enjoy their selections. They may just give you ideas for your 2016 reading list.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2015)
“With this book at my side I would be reading something published in 2015, written in a modern vein but set in the past. I would spend time analyzing and ‘picturing’ every word, phrase, and sentence. At the end of each paragraph I would have been somewhere and learned something. It touches the heart, mind, and spirit and is so visual that if I were allowed a pencil and paper on the island or a piece of burnt wood, I could use up days sketching the scenes that Anthony Doerr creates.” Annabella Eatherley, born in Cape Town South Africa, lives in Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“I read this book at least once a year, sometimes in Spanish or Italian to practice my language skills. Why Pride and Prejudice? I am an incurable romantic. In this day and time, it is hard to remain one, but I am still trying. The st book is constantly entertaining, even on the 31 reading. Austen has a keen understanding of human foibles that never fails to please. One of the joys of reading it so many times is that you pace yourself, since you already know how it turns out. You enjoy the writing so much more that way.” Larry Boyer, lives in Denver, spends 3 to 5 months a year in San Miguel de Allende and travels to Europe extensively. (Larry’s second choice is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, which would be my third choice. He has also read David Copperfield numerous times.)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
“It’s a terrific story with well-defined characters. I loved the part medicine plays in this novel.” Betty Bertele, born in the US, has resided in San Miguel de Allende for 20 years. Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates “…is one of the most enlightening, relevant, and beautifully composed pieces that have moved me. I reread sentences, paragraphs, and pages for the sheer pleasure of his writing. It is powerful and touching. Though he is addressing the world as experienced by a black male, I, as many others, related to the fear and insecurities of just getting through life. It’s a short book and one I will reread.” Diane Goldin lives in Chicago and Miami and spends long periods in Africa with her foundation.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“This book explores the deceptions of love—crazy love, careless love, socially sanctioned marital love, and late-life love. Garcia Marquez is a puppet master, showing us the human heart and longing from every angle. He himself said of the book ‘you have to be careful not to fall into my trap.’ Is it possible to be literally lovesick? Read as a love story or with a more cynical eye, the arc of the intertwining lives and loves make perfect sense.” Heidi Hough lives in Chicago, where she is a freelance editor and writer. She recently spent six months in New Zealand.

Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
“I would love to have this with me on my desert island. History, drama, and a love story.” Kate Kelley, born in Oak Park, Illinois, currently divides her time between Michigan City, Indiana, and San Augustinillo, Oaxaca. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver “Set in Africa, a land where I lived for four years, I identify with the African tribes, the way of life they have evolved to suit their climate, and the environment in which they grow. The misadventures (worse than that really) of the missionaries in Africa intrigue me: the lack of understanding of the land they blunder into and their blinkered attitude to the African people. I admired greatly Kingsolver’s vividly descriptive prose of the ‘always well meaning,’ but ridiculous and failing endeavors of the family. I loved following the beautifully planned buildup throughout the book. For me, a Kingsolver masterpiece.” Caroline Falasco, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, resides in Mexico City. She met her Italian husband in Zambia.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
“I could read this book over and over and still laugh and mentally relive the great movie that was made from it. Oh, that Gus!” Sue Boyer, born in Pennsylvania, lives in Denver and travels extensively worldwide with husband Larry, 45 years married.

The Book of Lists (from the 1980s)
“I chose it because of all the fun, interesting facts!” Kathy Kaye lives in Seattle, Washington, where she owns and runs a vineyard with her partner.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
“This is a book I first read in French in high school. And have read it several times since then in English. Each time I find something new, different, and always inspiring in the characters as well as in the writing.” Susan Kuntz was born in Washington D.C. and now lives in Paris, France. (Little did that little high schooler know she would live in Paris and that ironically her favorite book would have been written in Paris about events in Paris by a Frenchman.)

Wilderness Survival by Gregory Davenport and The Complete Works of Shakespeare
“If I were simply being dropped off on an unknown island with no creature comforts, I would take Wilderness Survival for obvious reasons. If someone left me deserted at a fully stocked Ritz Carlton, I would take my dog-eared and much-annotated copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. When I became totally bored with my own company, I could act out the plays, taking all the parts. If blue, I could read the comedies. If in despair, I could read Lear and realize how much worse the world could seem. And, if lonely, with The Tempest for company, the spirits of the isle would whisper to me.” Marcia Chaiken divides her time between Ashland, Oregon, and Huatulco, Oaxaca.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
“Perhaps due to the tragic events in Paris recently, this book has returned to the forefront as a bestseller. I would like to compare the Paris then to the Paris now.” Donna Arias, born in Chicago, lives in Mexico City.

The Art of Dancing in the Rain by Garth Stein
“This is an escape read that reminds me of the good, the bad, and the murky in-between of human existence as seen from a dog’s point of view. It nurtures my funny bone and my love of animals and humans.” DeNel Soto Rehberg, born in North Dakota, but now living in Nova Scotia as a professor of communications. She winters on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, where she started and manages a reading program at the Biblioteca de San Augustinillo.

The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott
“The Raj Quartet is an epic, four-part, Shakespearean-like tale of the final years of British colonialism in India. Part one, The Jewel in the Crown, later was made into one of the best miniseries ever. The Raj Quartet offers the sweep of great world events along with the minutiae of some wonderful characters, Indian and British alike. Those characters–Hari Kumar, Daphne, and Ronald Merrick–remain with me to this day. Reading The Raj Quartet was one of my favorite early experiences of immersing myself completely in the East/West culture clash and the tragic history that preceded me. Phyllis Kopriva dedicates her life to the things she loves: friends, family, travel, reading and Chicago, her kind of town.

One Big Damn Puzzler by John Harding
A very funny (sometimes scatological) book with a sad core. It’s the story of a lone white man (with OCD) visiting an island of indigenous people speaking pidgin. The only literate inhabitant is engaged in translating Shakespeare into pidgin. I read it a few years ago and would love to read it again on my own desert island. Barbara Robledo hails from Scotland but has lived her last 40 years in Mexico City reading and ‘flanuering’

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
“I didn’t have to think twice about my selection. Proust, in his seven volumes and million words, expresses every human emotion in this, his tour de force. When I finished it I felt as if I never had to read another book in my life. What else could there be? Of course I was wrong about the latter, but it’s still the finest piece of literature I have ever read. The satisfaction in reading Proust lies in his incredible attention to detail and his ability to express it in the loveliest and truest of ways. Despite his neuroses and illnesses, he seems to have human nature in his grasp.”

Carole Reedy was born in Chicago and lives in Mexico City. (My second choice is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.) I wish all of you a happy 2016, filled with new books. I finished 2015 discovering a new author, Hanya Yanagihara, and became absorbed in her most compelling second novel, A Little Life. I give it 5 stars plus.

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