You are on an island. What five books do you have with you to make the desertion bearable?
This may be the oldest trope in the history of Literature. I can almost imagine the monks in Cluny bent over a codex in their candle-dim scriptorium stopping to ask each other. (“Verily, Augustinus doth beguile the time well.”)
I am on an island, but I am also surrounded by books, more than I could hope to read in this (hopefully) brief time of sheltering. I don’t need to worry about what book will bear rereading until rescue or which is long enough to fill a passel of sand-swept days. But I do have the luxury to stop and think about the books I have read and about which ones I would want with me through an endless absence.
The first choice I would make is a cheat – like the man uses one of his genii wishes for more wishes. I would choose a blank book with enough pages to allow me to write. I have always felt that literature is a game of give-and-go. Well-written, Cervantes! Now read one of mine! I’m not sure there ever was a first book, because all books influence each other in a timeless circle. Even books written later cast rewriting shadows for the reader on their precursors.
Another obvious choice would be The Bible, although not for the most obvious reason. Religion is warm comfort in times of isolation, to be sure, and the Bible is a source of great inspiration. But it also is one of the freshest and funniest books in literature. It combines poetry and nursery rhymes while mixing in a few naughty bits and riveting military adventure. It includes mystery, swashbuckling and romance. In short, one volume encompasses an entire Everyman’s Library of styles and genres.
I would want to have a mystery novel, as a true aficionado of the art. The book would need to work on enough levels so that the fact that I knew the solution would not change my enjoyment. Sherlock Holmes fills that niche well, especially if I could finagle some sort of Collected Works Omnibus. (Heck, my island, my rules!)
I would sacrifice one book to a tome of enormous complexity that I would never undertake in an ordinary world. “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco perhaps would give me something to chew on in small bites over a long period of time.
Which leaves me with one last book that I would never tire of and never cease to take pleasure from. This may be akin to naming my favorite book, but the two are different. There are many books I have read and loved, but that I will never read again “Heart of Darkness” anyone?). It would be bad enough to be lost on an island without having my emotions roiled on a constant basis. I would choose something to remind that no matter how I age or how much time passes, there is still a child’s soul inside me. “Charlotte’s Web” or “Stuart Little” would be a great choice to round out my collection.
These books and the light to read them by are all that I could ever ask.
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