Monday 29 September 2014

Desert Island Books

As you know, I've been listening to a lot of Desert Island Discs recently (today: Beryl Bainbridge, who is bizarre in hers, and Joan Plowright's second recording) - and, of course, that got me thinking about Desert Island Books. I could put together a list of eight records (and I might still do that) but, unlike many of you, I am not an adept appreciator of music. I would certainly swap any number of records for an extra book, on my desert island.

I stole this sketch from a 2007 post... 

I can't believe I've been blogging for so long without doing one of these properly. Which probably means that I've made my list and forgotten about it, doesn't it?  But, following the same rules, I shall tell you the eight books I would take to a desert island, and my reasons for doing so. Because, of course, it isn't simply the most favourite books.

1. The Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
This book - which has all four of the series in, which isn't cheating since I own the book (I'm not just making up a non-existent collected version, as many castaways on the series do), would always be fresh to me, I think. So amusing, so witty, and I have already read it any number of times without getting tired of it.

2. The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne
I believe this is the two-in-one title. If I can only have one of the two, I'd pick The House at Pooh Corner, because that way I get Tigger, and that impossibly moving ending. I have to admit, I don't quite trust or respect people who don't 'get' Pooh et al. Sorry...

3. Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
We all knew this would be here, didn't we?

4. A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf
I ummed and ahhed over which of her novels I would take - and had written down To The Lighthouse - when I realised I could compromise and take the book that explores all of the rest of her writings. True, I wouldn't be able to indulge in the astonishing beauty of her fiction sentences, but it is a sacrifice I will have to make. (And unlike some, I don't really mind that Leonard was the editor. Someone had to be, and she trusted him.)

5. The Mitford Sisters: Letters Between Six Sisters ed. Charlotte Moseley
There is so much in this volume. So much social history, so much about what it is to be a family. And, practically speaking, it is enormously long, so I wouldn't race through it.

6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
There aren't many books I consider to be works of genius (although most of Woolf's would make that grade). But this one is.

7. Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield
I think this exists. Otherwise I'll picked a 'selected', or maybe just the collection Bliss. Her writing is so beautiful, precise, and observant - it would be like having people around, because she understood people so well. But her stories do tend to be rather melancholy, so I'd have to turn to Pooh or something afterwards.

8. My doctoral thesis
Is this monumentally arrogant? Probably, but I'd love to take this - not just as a reminder of years of hard work, and the most my mind will ever be stretched, but because I still find the topic so fascinating. And my memory is so bad that it will quickly feel like somebody else wrote it.

I'll swap the books and music around, allowing me one record (instead of one book) - and I choose My Song is Love Unknown. I think everybody who has a relationship with God marvels especially at one aspect of His nature, and - for me - that is His incredible love. "Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be" is a wonderful line, I think. And I would ideally choose a version that isn't by a fancy choir. I always prefer versions that sound sincere, i.e. I want it to sound like it would in a normal church service, more or less, rather than a cathedral choir. But that sort of thing isn't on YouTube, so I'll settle for this version, which is at least sung by grown ups...

And my luxury? Sorry to be boringly British, but it's an enormous supply of tea. I don't know if I can get milk alongside, but if not, I'll learn to like black tea. But a life without tea? Unthinkable.

Over to you! Pick your eight books, your song, and your luxury. Let me know in the comments if you have a go. And I might well do the more traditional version of Desert Island Discs soon...


  1. Simon, I shall ponder my eight selections.
    For now, however, I heartily agree on the tea!

  2. What an irresistible challenge, much too tempting to ignore.....I like to listen to DID's and I too find that I would prefer to have the ability to chose a quantity of books rather than music...but which to chose and how to only chose 8 ? So with out over thinking I'll have a go ….

    The eight I'd chose today would include

    The Natural history of Selbourne by Gilbert White (The Richard Mabey edition)

    Persuasion by Jane Austen

    Traditional Farmhouse fare : A Collection of Country Recipes from "Farmers Weekly"

    A Collection of the short stories of Rudyard Kipling (favourites include Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Maltese Cat, Lispeth)

    Gerald Durrell's ” The Corfu Trilogy” isn't it lovely when an edition contains three favourite books!

    The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

    John McNabb by John Buchan

    The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein

    But if I had to answer tomorrow the list might be very different

  3. I like your list. Still trying to find No 5! Will eventually find it. Love mrs Delafield! Agree about the tea.

  4. Wonderful list, Simon. If we were shipwrecked together, I would be very happy to share all your selections. Now must think what my own would be...

  5. Oh dear another challenge. I'll certainly try to have a go.

  6. Only one book or only one record? Argh, impossible choice! But yes, I think I'll give this a go.

  7. What fun! I'm going to have to have a think about this and choose mine!!

  8. I often think of this! My books.
    1. Complete Adrian Mole (I'm sure there is a complte works) - I will never tire of re-reading them.
    2. Agatha Christie - Hmm, probably A Murder is Announced for classic AC
    3. Any Penguin 20th Century book of British Verse
    4. The Otterbury Incident - C.Day Lewis, a childhood favourite.
    5. The Unlikely Pilgrimige of Harold Fry
    6. I Capture The Castle
    7. 1984
    8. Moondial by Helen Creswell

    I'm afraid that list sounds rather cliched and obvious, but if I'm on an Island with 8 books, they have to be ones that I can re-read over and over, whose prose is timeless and that have meaning to me. My song would be Speigel im Speigel by Arvo Part and my luxury item would be lose leaf, single estate Asam tea. *g*

  9. Only one song? You are cruel, surely we could have a whole album... Probably David Bowie's Changes. As for books, am tempted to cheat a little and go for collected works of... But I also assume we're not allowed Shakespeare, right? So I'll be fair and reasonable and go instead for (today, at least):
    1) Virginia Woolf's Diary (would prefer the 5 volume edition though)
    2) The Great Gatsby
    3) Tales of Genji - big enough to keep me going for a while
    4) John Donne's poems
    5) Persuasion
    6) Kafka's stories
    7) Faber Book of Modern Poetry
    8) Alice (both the Looking Glass and in Wonderland)
    So we agree on a few, I see!
    My luxury item would NOT be coffee (because I doubt I would have anywhere to plug in my coffeemaker). Perhaps a Swiss army knife - the very top end special edition.

  10. Oh Simon! That's why we haven't been invited to participate in Desert Island Discs. I had in the past thought if that were me I'd have to choose 8 audio books. The hymn is lovely and I never thought of hymns for the music choice. Excellent. Barbara

  11. Music would have to be Bells of St. Genevive: a baroque compilation. Libation :coffee. Books: The Odyssey of Homer,Gone with the Wind, The Blue Castle, The Ivy Tree ( just read this), Complete Works of William Shakespere, The Bible, Sibley's Guide to Birds, and Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

  12. I'll go with the eight pieces of music and one book! OK I'll play the game your way, but I'd regret it in practice I think.

    The Cat (Colette)
    The Magic Mountain
    The Master and Margarita
    Comet in Moominland
    Kafka on the Shore
    Small World
    The Feynmann Lectures on Physics
    Sleeping with Cats (Piercy)

    Music will be a real challenge (as you may imagine), Tricky to know whether to take something upbeat in times of despair or monumental. How about J S Bach's Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248?

    A luxury, well how about a handmade flute by Arista (go on indulge me).

  13. I've never done a similar list: it just makes me shudder to imagine. Although I know a Jane Austen omnibus will always be on it. But you did remind me that I need to give Delafield a go. :)

  14. When I try to answer this sort of question I get hopelessly tangled up in all the alternatives. I know I would definitely take:
    --The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (hey, it's three books in one!)
    --A poetry anthology (any suggestions?)
    --Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara G. Walker (see luxury)

    Luxury: endless supply of yarn and knitting needles
    Song/Music: William Byrd's Mass for Four Voices. If I were limited to only one part, then the Agnus Dei. It doesn't get much more heavenly than this.

  15. You start a meme and I'll take it on.... pondering my list now!

  16. My copy of Winnie the Pooh also includes the two poetry collections 'When we were very young' and 'now we are six'. If you were absolutely sure you were going to be stranded forever, I might let you take it out of pity... Otherwise no, because I need it for my own list!

  17. Oh i need to have a think ,not done a desert island books , but think mine would be a number of trandlations


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