There used to be a radio program called Desert Island Discs. It might even still be running. Anyway, thinking about favourite novels and short story anthologies recently put me in mind of a Desert Island Books format, and I got to wondering what 10 favourite books I'd take if I was planning on being stranded somewhere---especially if I knew I wouldn't have to use the pages to light fires, or eat, or write messages across and fold into origami boats to sail the ocean blue ...
And there's a dilemma in itself. Because, given the choice, and with so many delicious-looking books around, I'd probably choose 10 shiny-new books and take a punt on discovering a gem or two rather than visiting an old favourite. It does happen, but it's a rare thing to find the time to give a book a second read. Isn't it? It's a luxury, and a book like that has to have some exceptional qualities.
Which is of course the challenge: what books are such great reads that they're worth coming back to a second time ... and perhaps a third and a fourth? And why?
I've spent longer thinking about this than I probably should've done---browsing the bookshelves, limiting the choice to novels and short story anthologies, wondering whether I could cheat and just select 10 books I wouldn't take---but I've made my list.
So here, in no particular order, are the books I'd be delighted to be stranded with (this month's list, at least):
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami. This is the first Murakami I read and it got me hooked on his writing. It 'hangs together' so well and I reckon I might enjoy this one even more second time around, but, in the absence of this, I'd be equally happy taking A Wild Sheep Chase. I love elements of the surreal in fiction, particularly when blended with a gritty reality ... that overlapping of the two ... love it!
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë. I remember being surprised by this when I first read it years ago, wondering why it wasn't accorded the same status as Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Over the last couple of years, I've been sampling more and more gothic lit.---The Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho (couldn't finish this one), The Dressmaker---and, well, I might easily spend a few hours with The Tenant again.
The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter. More of the gothic, and so rich and earthy and sexy. The Company of Wolves has to be one of my favourite short stories of all time. Eat your heart out, Mr Wolf; go girl!
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things -Jon McGregor. Haven't come across anybody who hasn't rated this novel as a great read. A friend gave it me when I was in the UK last (thanks, Deb) and I liked it so much I couldn't leave it behind or pass it on to someone else. I wanted to keep it! At the end of the first read, I was ready to read it again, but moved onto another book instead. Now's the time.
A Christmas Card - Paul Theroux. I'm a big fan of children's books (Burglar Bill, Peace at Last, Postman Pat, Meal One, Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas, almost anything ...) but this is one of my favourites, and it has a touch of magic to it. It's about Christmas wishes and family, and on the first occasion I read it I was thinking about snow ... and it snowed. So, a couple of years later, I read it to a group of teenagers and told them it was a magic book and that it'd snow after I read it, and it did. I must have used up the magic because on the third occasion ... But it's been a few years since then (time to replenish) and I might feel in the need of a little snow on my desert island.
Dirt Music - Tim Winton. An Australian offering. I had to flip between this and Winton's The Riders, but opted for this because The Riders is set in Europe and I'd need to hold onto a flavour of Australian life, and because I think Dirt Music is a stronger book.
The Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger. It's definitely time to pick up this classic again. It's a long time since I've heard Holden Caulfield's distinctive voice, and I'd be interested to see what effect it has on me after so many years.
Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll. I'm ashamed to say that I don't think I've actually read Alice from beginning to end. I've dipped into it so many times that it feels like I've read it through and through, but I haven't. Not as a cohesive whole. And there's a sort of link with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Slaughterhouse 5. Besides, I reckon if I spent too long on a desert island I'd be chasing white rabbits of my own, so why not set the pace with this adventure?