Top desert island reads

22:14, Jul 18 2013

What are your ultimate desert island reads? I've been thinking about this a little bit recently, because one of my favourite genres is post-apocalyptic fiction. In the event that the world ends, and all books somehow got incinerated, Fahrenheit 451-styles, which ones would I save for my doomsday library?

Reading the same thing every day can get tedious, because most readers enjoy variety. That's why reading is such a pleasurable activity - you can enter into imaginary worlds that can be anything from saucy and minxy to complete fantasy, boring or frighteningly realistic.

But if there was only a limited number of books you can bring/rescue, what would it be? It really is a difficult one to call. 

The books would have to be both stimulating and enchanting. That is, I think they would have to be intellectually challenging while at the same time maintaining a certain aura of emotional truth and perhaps even nostalgia. In that situation, where books would presumably be the only form of entertainment available and also perhaps the only mental escape you can have from what would be a brutal and cold reality, which authors could possibly live up to that kind of expectation?

There would have to be some limits involved for this desert island/doomsday library too. For one, you couldn't have a lot of titles. If it was a situation of real emergency, or you were given very little warning, and there was only one of you and perhaps a couple of bags at most, there wouldn't be a lot of books you could stash away.

Logically, I think you'd be restricted to perhaps five or six books. Then the problem becomes whether you want to bring a well-loved classic, or that thriller you're halfway through finishing but will haunt you for the rest of your days if you don't find out what happens. On the other hand, if the ending is disappointing, then you're stuck with a book you loathe forever.


It's like that saying, "life is too short to read bad books", but if that's all you have...

And what about folk who want to bring a religious text with them? What happens if you come to some kind of epiphany on the desert island or after the world ends and change your entire belief system?

If we need to reproduce to repopulate the island as well, do you then think ahead and bring children's books? What about practical books, like how to make rat stew or how to grow wild potatoes or how to make clothing out of palm fronds?

Yes, important considerations, all! With all that in mind, here are my top five desert island titles. I have deliberately not gone for just my favourites, but books that I think will hold up to multiple readings. These are all books I've mentioned at some point or other, so I won't go into the reasons why again.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
Complete Grimm's Fairytales
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
A Dream of Red Mansions

What books would you include in your doomsday library?

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