My Desert Island Bookshelf

Marooned on a desert island, these are the books I would wish to accompany me. I set one simple rule: one book per writer.

Mathias Enard, Compass
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
WG Sebald, After Nature
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Franz Kafka, The Castle
Homer, Iliad
Geoff Dyer, The Colour of Memory
Roger Deakin, Notes From Walnut Tree Farm
Dante, Purgatory
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile
Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
Peter Handke, Repetition
Jorge Semprún, Literature or Life
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, War & War
Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows
JM Coetzee, In the Heart of the Country
Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness
Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva
Kate Zambreno, Book of Mutter
Roberto Calasso, La Folie Baudelaire
Tomas Espedal, Tramp
Christa Wolf, Cassandra
Grace Dane Mazur, Hinges
Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard
Claudio Magris, A Different Sea
Max Frisch, I’m Not Stiller
Brigid Brophy, The Snow Ball
Denton Welch, A Voice Through a Cloud
Nick Hunt, Walking the Woods and the Water
JG Ballard, The Kindness of Women
John Berger, Bento’s Sketchbook

(Pure whimsy and volatile by nature)

37 thoughts on “My Desert Island Bookshelf

  1. A desert island bookshelf is, for me, only worth a good supply of eyeglasses, anticipating gradual decline in ability to read (or a robust magnifying glass). Imagine being stranded with all your necessary books and no longer being able to see well enough to read.

    Yes, it’s a glass half full day here. And I totally concur regarding The Castle, by the way.

      • That in turn puts me in mind of the final story in Aashish Kaul’s collection A Dream of Horses, in which he imagines Beckett and Borges taking a rowboat out to the centre of a lake where they discuss literature.

    • This is exactly what happened to me. For 7 years, I was unable to read. Unable, even, to write a simple email without spelling mistakes galore. I lived in a state of semi blind poverty, like a hermit. talking to no one. It was only when I became old enough to qualify for Medicare that I was able to get cataract surgery in both eyes. All the colors returned; my world was no longer yellow and grey. And then I looked in the mirror and did not recognize the old man looking back at me. At least I can type this without needing glasses. And I can resume my once voracious reading habits! 7 years! I feel, or felt anyway, like Mollloy, or a Borges without the talent.

        • Very thick, heavy glasses. All that is now over. I plan to go scuba diving in September in the Red Sea. For months on end. And write by night a sort of literary murder mystery. We shall see. Life is suddenly good. But I know what blindness is, coupled with strabismus. I shall also be reading your blog more thoroughly, and comment here and there..

  2. i can never think of what my favourite books are, even tho i like books and lists and deserted islands. i just have nothing to say but i wanted to comment anyway and to say it’s always nice to read what you’re up to and i like your blog more every passing year.

  3. Wonderful list, I’d have a large number of yours too (and glasses). For Dante I’d take “Inferno” instead & Joyce “Finnegan’s Wake” (as I’d have the time to decipher it).

  4. What I like most about this list is the idiosyncratic list of authors. Not just the usual suspects. Very glad to see Doris Lessing here. She doesn’t get enough respect. Though I’d take The Good Terrorist or The Summer Before the Dark…

  5. At least four or five which would be on my equivalent list, which suggests that the books I don’t know stand a good chance of being favourites too. But could you get your list down to the meagre eight choices allowed when castaways on Radio 4 choose their Desert Island Discs?

    • I’d say Iliad, Divine Comedy (or Purgatory), Compass, The Unnamable, The Book of Disquiet, The Charterhouse of Parma, The Roving Shadows, and Hinges. That would keep me quite content.

  6. Anthony, I have never come across anyone else who knows about ‘Hinges’, let alone likes it. So it’s with great pleasure I see it on your list as it’s an astounding – uncategorisable – book.
    And I can never decide on my favourite Woolf: Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, or The Waves. All wonderful in different ways!


    • I maintain a record of my library on Library Thing and it is rare that I rate a book 5 stars, so while the titles may change, the writers are pretty consistent.

  7. No Proust?

    My fear for you would be that a week in you’d be looking at your copy of Compass and cursing yourself for not bringing Zone instead, to pick but one potential example.

    I assume after the first month once you’d read them all you’d fashion a raft from them and make your way to the nearest shore-bound bookshop.

    Hinges? Do tell.

    • I thought long and hard about Proust, as I did the Complete Works of Plato. In truth, I’d be more inclined to take the latter than the former. My memory of reading Proust is rich but I’ve never had any urge to reread.

      There would always be regrets for the individual choices I’d made for each writer, though in Enard’s case, I think Compass will draw me back to reread more quickly than Zone.

      Hinges is a personal favourite, one of those glorious books you read once and are dipping into for years to come. It is erudite and insightful.

      Or I could I suppose take Bottom’s Dream, which would just about make a raft in its own right.

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