Desert Island Books

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I’m going on my hols tomorrow, and I’m rushing about like mad trying to get the preparations and packing done. I’m thinking about taking a book or two. But it’s not easy to choose, is it? I’ve got an eReader, but that’s not quite enough – I feel I need book-books too. But which? Something new? Something old? Take some with me? But then it’s hard to reach the TBR stash as we’ve been decorating and there’s stuff in front of it… Buy new ones there? It’s a dilemma. But because I’m in the holiday mood, I got to thinking about Desert Island Discs.

The popular BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs began in 1942. Incredible isn’t it? If you are unfamiliar with this, each programme features a celebrity who is asked to choose the eight gramophone records he or she would take with them if they were to be cast away on a desert island (no idea how long for), assuming of course that they would find a working gramophone with an inexhaustible supply of needles. They could also choose one luxury item to take. Over the years, the show featured almost everyone from sports, politics, music, literature, film and stage. Even Colin Firth and Margaret Thatcher have been on the show. Not together.

So I’d like to propose Desert Island Books. Now if you ask someone what they would do if they had three wishes, most people say they’d wish for three more wishes. No, folks, you can’t do that. It’s cheating. And neither can you say you’d take your eReader with you so you can ‘cheat’ the eight book rule! And after all, how could you recharge it?

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Instead of a gramophone and needles I will have a coffee maker and an armchair.

And my eight books? This is quite hard because obviously there are so many millions of books in the world, and there are quite a few in my house. So I feel I’ve got to choose books that are either special, or that mean something to me and or that have had an impact on my life. So here goes…

1. The Norton Shakespeare: Why? Because it’s got all the Shakespeare plays and sonnets (let’s not get into the debates on here about authorship…), and lots of other interesting stuff, plus it’s relatively light for a big book and you never know when you might need something to stand on to reach a coconut on a tall branch or something to bash a wild animal with. And I do love Shakespeare. I did a module of my degree on ‘Shakespeare and His Works’, mainly because I was fed up with ‘everyone’ banging on about how wonderful Shakespeare was, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Also I didn’t think a degree in Literature would be complete without at least a glance in his direction. I ‘did’ Romeo and Juliet at school – hated it! But boy was this different! I was smitten. Hamlet, MacBeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing. Yes there are a few dodgy ones. (As You Like It and Cymbeline for example – eek!) But read some Sonnets, read Richard II – if you’ve ever seen this blog before, you will probably know how much I love Rich 2.  Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? thou art more lovely and more temperate… *sigh*  So that’s number one.

2. The Wind In The Willows: Anthropomorphism gone mad. But it is a blissful, golden-age read with a strangely adult story to tell, and not really to be wasted on children. Will we ever get to the end of it’s imagery? My mother read this to me when I was pretty small – five or six – and I remember being a bit bored some of the time because I had no idea what was going on, and yet I love d it too, and never wanted it to end. There aren’t many books you can read as an adult that you recall from childhood without being disappointed, but Wind in the Willows is one of those books which seems to have layers for whatever stage of life you are at. The mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. And there you are, immersed in the midst of a new world, similar to ours, but not quite the same.

3. Murder On The Orient Express: I almost put Death On The Nile, but the heart wants what it wants. As a writer of murder mysteries, I do love a good detective story, and I grew up with Agatha Christie books which I began to read from the age of about ten. My mother had no problem with me reading them as they contained ‘no sex’, or so she thought. Of course they are riddled with intrigues but I suppose as it’s all done politely and in secret, that makes it okay. As to this particular one, I have always been fascinated by the Lindbergh kidnapping and of course Christie used that as a basis for the story. And the endless unravelling of the plot rather like the peeling of an onion. Is it him? No! is it her? No! It’s all of them! It is the quintessential Christie, I think, cocking a snook at the conventions of the genre and definitely a book for all seasons. Steam trains, foreign travel, exotic characters, and a murder – what’s not to love?

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: You might be beginning to think this isn’t going to be a high-brow list of books. And you’d be right. I don’t do high-brow. For those of us of a certain age (old) Harry P is still thought of as a ‘new’ series. We were living in Brisbane when the news was full of eight years olds camping out all night to get a copy of book three on release day. That was when I thought to myself, ‘what the ****?’ and as with Shakespeare I thought, what is all the fuss about, I must find out more! So being an ordered kind of person and because I like to read series from the beginning in the correct order, I went out and bought book number one. I loved it. My husband laughed and said ‘what on earth made you get that?’ then he read it and he loved it – then the children both read it, and they loved it too. This is the only series of books all four of us in our family have read. I don’t have the memories some have of reading it to my toddler at bedtime, but I have the memory of the phenomenon as it occurred and of discussions over dinner. Plus it’s a school story in essence, and I had the whole series of Malory Towers.

5. The Portable Door: I love quirky, weird, genre-busting stories and this was fab. As ever, I like to start at the beginning of a series and this was the first of Tom Holt’s books about the J W Wells organisation. Let’s just say, they are not your average types. It’s a mystery, it’s fantasy, it’s magical realism, it’s a little bit of romance and it’s ridiculously clever. Oh and it’s hilarious. You have to read this. This book opened my eyes to the notion that you should write what you want and what you believe in, not according to the labels on the shelves in a book shop.

6. Shades of Grey: NO it’s not THAT book. This is a little like the Tom Holt book, but even fantasier, weirder, funnier and literarier and so, so clever. If you are a technophobe or a technophile you will love this book by Jasper fforde. Set kind-of in the future in a world where technology is being scaled back to ‘improve’ the quality of human life, with laugh-out-loud bits such as giving a paramedic feedback after they came out to deal with an accident in the street. So clever, so wise, so sweet. Like number 5, with this book it was all about breaking out of a mould, and not being afraid to bring in anything and everything to create your story.

7. Pride and Prejudice: (frogless edition) I love this story. I have read it so many times, and every time I find something new in its pages. I love the wit, I love the style and the larger-than-life characters. I even like some of the spin-offs, though some of them should have been squashed, in my opinion. This is a book I just couldn’t manage without. I know these days it’s hard to divorce Jane Austen’s masterpiece from the BBC production with you-know-Firth in it, but there is actually so much more in the book. Austen’s work is often dismissed as Regency chick-lit or empty-headed nonsense or slush, but I think that is to ignore its subtlety, wit and intelligence. And how often one finds oneself in a difficult situation and thinks, what would Eliza Bennett do?

Oh dear – only one left! Eek not sure I can limit myself to just eight after all! There are so many books I want to take with me. I know I’ve gone entirely with fictional works too, but those are what reach me, offering me new worlds to escape to and to learn from. Yes, I enjoy non-fiction too, but none of that has ever had the same kind of impact on me. I will go and look at my shelves and decide what I can’t possibly manage without. So many books I’ve had to leave behind…P G Wodehouse, Malcolm Savile, Patricia Wentworth, Charles Dickens, Dan Brown, Donna Tartt, Phyllis Whitney, M M Kaye, Not to mention The Catcher In The Rye, Of Mice And Men, The Colour Purple…oh the humanity! What about The Waste Land – I love that poem! And The House At Pooh Corner…

But…

Oh yes, of course – how could I have forgotten…?

8. The Collected works of Matthew Arnold: Hmm, I thought that would surprise you. But it’s all because of one poem. I mean, I know he wrote loads of poems, and I like a lot of them, But Dover Beach is – well, I need to have that by me, just in case. That line, ‘Ah, love, let us be true’, always makes me want to weep. Here the poem is in its entirety:

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
 ***
There’s no way I can leave that wonderful work behind.  And my luxury item? A fully loaded solar-powered eReader that dispenses ice cream. My gaff, my rules. 😀
What books would YOU take?

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