Friday, February 19, 2016

Ten Books for a Desert Island

Only the cats are healthy at our house at the moment.  Tanya is a week closer to recover from her cold than I am.  My news feed has been swamped with stories about Ukrainian politics which I have read but am in no shape to write anything intelligent in way of a synopsis.

Right now I am wading through 'Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East' by David Stahel and 'It Was a Long Time Ago and it Never Happened Anyway' by David Satter.  The first title is sort of self explanatory.  The second needs a bit of explanation. It is about as much fun to read as Anne Applebaum's Gulag: a History which I read over the holidays. This from Google Books:

Russia today is haunted by deeds that have not been examined and words that have been left unsaid. A serious attempt to understand the meaning of the Communist experience has not been undertaken, and millions of victims of Soviet Communism are all but forgotten. In this book David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent and longtime writer on Russia and the Soviet Union, presents a striking new interpretation of Russia's great historical tragedy, locating its source in Russia's failure fully to appreciate the value of the individual in comparison with the objectives of the state. 

Satter explores the moral and spiritual crisis of Russian society. He shows how it is possible for a government to deny the inherent value of its citizens and for the population to agree, and why so many Russians actually mourn the passing of the Soviet regime that denied them fundamental rights. Through a wide-ranging consideration of attitudes toward the living and the dead, the past and the present, the state and the individual, Satter arrives at a distinctive and important new way of understanding the Russian experience.
The other day I saw an article in The Guardian or Independent or Telegraph or something, that asked what 10 books would you take if you were going to be marooned on a desert island.

That is not an easy question for me to answer because most of my reading is history and once or twice is enough.  Trying to remember good fiction or timeless non-fiction was not easy.  My list got as far as eight and stalled:
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Monte Walsh by Jack Schaeffer
  • The Earthbreakers by Ernest Haycox
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John LeCarre
  • Smiley's People by John LeCarre
  • The Outport People by Claire Mowat
  • Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner
I suggested to my son I would add Ulysses by James Joyce and the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky as I would then be forced to read them.  He said even then he couldn't read Ulysses as he has tried a few times. Maybe I would take The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand 

If it were fifty or a hundred, it would be easier perhaps but just 10 is a killer.  Google is a great help, though.  Google 'Top 100 books' and you get awesome lists. This one is incredible.

The Greatest Books lists 1950 Fiction and 1150 Non-Fiction.  If you sign in on Facebook you can check the ones you have read and the ones you would like to read. I got half way through and called it a night.

There is this 99 Classic Books Challenge 
I managed 17 of 99

I would be fascinated to get your list of 10 books, dear readers and also an indication of how you did on the 99 Classic Books Challenge.

And no bragging rights, which is worse.


  1. 55 out of 99 - top 4% - would be more but I read other books by authors listed, or I started and never finished (Ulysses & Lolita!)... and I am a rule follower :)

    There is NO WAY I can choose only 10 for a desert island. First of all, because I rarely read the same book more than once, and I would, #1, want to take all books I haven't read before and #2, am already grossed out by the idea of being stuck with the same 10 texts. But, again, in the spirit of rule following(ha!)...

    Books I have read that I'd try read again:

    1. The Caucasian Chalk Circle - Brecht
    2. The Master & Margarita - Bulgakov
    3. Santa Biblia en Espanol
    4. Gulliver's Travels - Swift
    5. Following the Equator - Twain
    6. The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism
    7. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women
    8. Anna Karenina - Tolstoy
    9. The Last of the Crazy People - Findley
    10. A collection of C.S. Lewis' writings

    Hey. I *tried*! :)

    This was a fun game, Al, thanks!

    1. I agree about impossible to choose 10.
      Bulgakov is on my want to read list. Anna Karenina I enjoyed once but whether I could read it twice, I don't know.
      And 55/99 is some awesome. You rock!

  2. I was shocked to discover I've actually read 13 of the 99. I was betting on a score of 0 - 1, since I loathe most of the 'classics'.

    I'm having an anxiety attack at the thought of being limited to only 10 books, but I'll take a swing at a list:
    1) Lord of the Rings (that's already 3 books, oh no...)
    4) Anything by Lois McMaster Bujold
    5) Any of the 'Vet' books by James Herriot
    6) Any of the 'Callahan's Saloon' books by Spider Robinson
    7) Any of Robert Fulghum's short stories/musings
    8) Any of the 'Miss Julia' books by Ann B. Ross
    9) Any of the 'Mrs. 'Arris' books by Paul Gallico
    10) A thesaurus, because with only 10 books, I'd spend most of my time writing novels in the sand with my finger.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  3. 13/99 is likely average as in fewer than 20. Some of the books I have read were from highschool and university, which I would only read at gunpoint.
    That is quite a list. Love the James Herriot books. The only Paul Gallico book I read was "The Snow Goose". The thesaurus Good luck getting a publisher though.

  4. Can I count all of Trollope's Palliser novels as one book? If I can't, my desert island list is going to be rather heavy on just one author. If I'm going to be stuck on an island, 9 out of 10 of the books would be pure escapist fiction. The 10th one would be a survival manual of some sort, one of those paperbacks that tells you everything from how to start a fire without matches to what to do if you're attacked by a bear.

    I've read 69% of the books on the list. Some were assigned in school so I'm not sure they count, like "A Two of Tale Cities." That's actually the only book by Dickens I've managed to finish. It falls into the same category as "Moby Dick" and "Ulysses," although I think I've gotten farther in it than with the latter two. Has anyone ever actually read "Ulysses" from cover to cover? As for "Moby Dick," I had no trouble with a couple of Melville's other novels so why his most famous one stymies me is a mystery.

    1. I had you figured for a high score on the list and was not wrong. The survival manual is brilliant. I quite enjoyed Tale of Two Cities and Christmas Carole but none of his other books. Moby Dick I also enjoyed but wouldn't tackle it twice. I read somewhere that even a professor who specialized in Joyce had only read Ulysses three times in his life.
      My books would be mostly escapist too, though my favourites tend to be no more than a few hundred pages so I would need about 100 of them if I had to cycle them too often.

  5. I like westerns, and books by James Michener.

    1. Me, too, BBC. I have read most of Michener's books. If I could take books by 10 authors to my island, it would be all of Louis L'amour, Ernest Haycox, Jack Schaeffer, Dorothy Johnson, Will Henry, Frank O'Rourke at the top of the list

    2. Two sets of books of which my Dad taught me a great appreciation, BBC. I think I stole all your L'Amour books, didn't I Dad?

    3. Between you and Graeme, all my westerns disappeared but I have been stealing them back every chance I get.

  6. I hadn't had the guts to take on Ulysses, but Crime & Punishment is a pretty easy read and we'll worth the time.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I will try it. I read only one Dostoevsky "Poor folks", a quite slim novel. I have several of his books and will try another

    2. Mine would be:
      1. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Baringgould
      2. Arguably Essays by Christopher Hitchens
      3. Chess for Dummies
      4. The Corey Ford Sporting Treasury by Corey Ford
      5. The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn
      6. Cache 22 by Joseph Heller
      7 3X Carlin bye George Carlin
      8. Salems's Lot by Stephen King
      9. Robert Frost Poems
      10. My own Notebook of quotes, insights and meanderings that I have kept since 1996

      the Ol'Buzzard

    3. That is a great list. I have read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories but did not know of this book. I have heard Hitchens is a good read and will add him to my list. I got through three chapters of Gulag and couldn't take anymore of man's inhumanity to man. Love Robert Frost and I do have that book of poems. I want that Carlin book.

    4. A fascinating take on Russia and how people can blindly support a system the does not work for their benefit - the same thing seems to exist among the Republican Party base in the US. This election is a scary proposition of sane against insane, and the insane have the momentum: they vote.
      the Ol'Buzzard

  7. My friend Blair emailed me to tell me my memory was faulty and that Will James did NOT write Wolf Willow. The author was Wallace Stegner and has been corrected. This excerpt is from his email:

    My connection to Wolf Willow is that it was published the year I graduated from high school and caused no end of concern in the local paper. Since Eastend has become an artists community, the reaction has changed markedly with the establishment of a writers retreat at the Rehabilitated Stegner House.

    The location of the Stegner homestead was probably in the Arena Community Pasture near the current Butala preserve.

    Will James came from Val Marie about 60 miles to the east.

    Another book about the area that you might be interested in is "Empire of Blood", a book by Candace Savage (one of the members of the Eastend artists community). If I recall correctly, it won the Weston award the year it was published.

    A portion of interest is the "Death Camps" maintained by the RCMP to enhance their efforts to relocate the Indians native to SW SK further north, particularily in the North Battlefords area- one camp mentioned was by Cypress Lake. the lake is within 3/4 mile of our farm home and the probable location of the camp was probably in the valley of Oxarat Creek-3 miles northwest.

  8. I forgot to add that your list is like my greatest punishment of all time. I assume, my list would be the same for you!


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