Monday, May 07, 2007

Desert Island Picks

After I set out criteria for picking fiction to read, Cathy challenged me in a comment to name the top 5 books I have ever read.

You know the set up. . .imagine you are stranded on a desert island. What 5 books would you want to have with you.

This game reminds me of my daughter's constant questioning as a child. She would ask--what is your favorite fruit, vegetable, meat, bread etc. Or she would say--what is your favorite movie. Or after an event or a family vacation--what part did you like best. I was never very good at answering her questions because choosing is so difficult for me.

Many people bend the desert island premise a bit and answer--the Bible or the complete works of Shakespeare. Of course, I wouldn't bend the premise. . .at least, not that way.

I would bend it a little differently. Keeping the list to just 5 is flat out impossible for me. So, I have picked my Top 5 Classics, my Top 5 "modern" novels, and my top 5 non-Fiction. Here goes.

CLASSICS (drum roll, please--)

1. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

2. Light in August by William Faulkner

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

5. Howard's End by E.M. Forster

MODERN FICTION (meaning after 1950)

1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

2. A Lesson before Dying by Ernest Gaines

3. Sacred Dust by David Hill

4. Gilead by Marilyne Robinson

5. Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai


1. The Coming Plague by Laurie Gerrett

2. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

3. King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild

4. A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan

5. Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean

Oh, that was painful. I actually made up a list of Honorable Mentions, because I couldn't stand to not include certain books. For example, for years I have said my favorite book is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. But it's not on the list. PAIN PAIN.

The classics list is by far the hardest--no Dickens on the list, nor Jane Austen. How can that be? No Hemingway. No Hawthorne.

And I haven't even given a summary overview of any of the books. Well, let it be.

Now, it's your turn. Can you name your top five books, any category or mixed?


Mary said...

Donna, you are so well read. I've read only two of those authors and I just can' list my fav 5 by category. I'd need to think for a few days. It's been years since I was an avid reader and my memory isn't what it used to be :o/

I really, really admire your talent and enjoy what you have to offer in on your blog.

Cathy said...

Donna! Thank you! I'm so pained by my lack of acquaintance with so many of these books. I don't suppose I'll get away with asking you which one you'd most regret having missed :0)

Climenheise said...

Wow! I have read Huck Finn, and I know you assigned me Howard's End many years ago in Literature class, but ... And I plan to get to Gilead: after all, you gave it to me! But none of the others? Wow!

I think part of the difference is that I return to a few trusted old friends and re-enter their world for a bit. Here is a most scattered list, in no particular order.

1) LOTR. I really do enjoy Tolkien and associated things, from the Mabinogion and Lloyd Alexander to C.S. Lewis.

2) Gerald Durrell, "My Family and Other Animals" -- actually all of Gerald Durrell, and a few non-fiction pieces by his brother, Lawrence (such as "Bitter Lemons").

3) Dorothy Sayers, the Wimsey books in general. So also with Sherlock Holmes. Less so with Agatha Christie and more with Ngaio Marsh. If I have to pick one: "Gaudy Night".

4) Peter Godwin, "Mukiwa, a whire boy in Africa". Or Alexandra Fuller, "Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight". Both for the same reason: I have to have some way to remember where I come from. Maybe I should choose "Long Walk to Freedom", but I haven't read it yet.

5) I'm leaving out the Bible. But I will give as a fifth for the work that I do: anything by Paul Hiebert or Chuck Kraft or Lesslie Newbigin or (on the web) Andrew Jones or Scott McKnight. I know: cheating. But I need something that works at integrating faith and concrete life, even when marooned on a desert island.

I suppose classics: poetry by John Donne and Wordsworth, essays by Macaulay, and so on. But you're right. Thinking about this sort of thing hurts: there are too many choices.

Ruth said...

I will keep your lists as I have only read 4 books on them. The Poisonwood Bible was one of the best books I ever read, but I have re-read it only once. Will have to think about my list...only five books?! I need 5 books for a week of holidays.

Beth said...

'Poisonwood Bible' is in my summer pile for a re-read sometime in the next 5 months...

I admire your list and am inspired to read a few things that have escaped me thus far; but I don't think I can make such a list. My favorite books are widely scattered and to deliniate just a few would be to compartmentalize my life in a way that I find impossible.

My favorite tends to be whatever I am currently reading! If it captures me enough to invest my precious time, it is GOOD! So, what I've read recently would be my current list of best books ever!

'The Master Butcher's Singing Club' - love it! Almost finished, and dreading leaving their world...

'Take This Bread' - eye-opening.

'Ephesians' from the bible. Great encouragement for life.

One of the most influential books in my life has been 'The World According to Garp'. That, and 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' were powerful for me. I like John Irving.

I love Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty. Faulkner's 'The Sound and the Fury' was one of the first books I dissected under the watchful eye of my amazing junior level English eacher in high school.

...and I should have just written my OWN post about this on my blog...thanks for making me think!

thailandchani said...

It is just nearly impossible to choose only five. As someone mentioned above, five books would be a week or two's collection of reads.

My tastes change and evolve as I change and evolve. There was a book I valued a great deal several years ago (Shakti Gawain) which I'd find shlocky now.

Books are just the best companions... and I like my community of authors, those who keep me changing and growing.



LauraHinNJ said...

I would love to hear why the John Irving books were so powerful for Beth?

I enjoy John Irving - need to get back to reading him, in fact - just curious what it is about those two books that touched Beth so.

KGMom said...

Mary--thanks for your kind words. You know I admire your camera work--birds and squirrels!
Cathy--do you mean which one I missed putting on the list? or which one I would miss if I couldn't take all these books along?
Daryl--your tastes run more to the English Oxford set! I confess to having never read LOTR--saw the movies though and loved them.
Ruth--I loved Poisonwood Bible, maybe for similar reasons as to why you enjoyed it. I could take almost any Barbara Kingsolver novel & be happy.
AC commented on the prior post about picking books & said he liked Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer--another great pick.
Beth--oh, I am glad you like Master Butchers Singing Club. I, too, like Flannery O'Connor & Eudora Welty. In grad school, I did a long paper on Flannery O'Connor.
Chani--good to hear from you again. I agree that reading tastes change. When I was a young woman, I loved Leon Uris' Exodus. And I enjoyed all the James Micheners that I read.
Laura--Beth can answer for herself the draw of John Irving--I loved his Cider House Rules, and also Prayer for Owen Meany. They are among my Honorable Mentions. I have not enjoyed some of his later novels as much.

dguzman said...

Oh boy, music to an old English teacher's ears.... My list combines both non-fic and fic:
1. Moby Dick-Herman Melville
2. Beloved-Toni Morrison
3. Isaac's Storm-Erik Larsen
4. Sense and Sensibility-Jane Austen
5. Chariots for Apollo-Stoff and Pellegrino OR LOTR

Oh dear--that was harder than I thought it would be. The first couple were easy, but the rest--oy vey! I would miss The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, Wieland, anything by Peter Maas (I love true crime!), and a million other books, but I'd be happy with those.

KGMom said...

Delia--good picks. Moby Dick would certainly occupy some time! I love Beloved as well. I have not read Isaac's Storm, although I read a great deal about it. You saw I mourned not including Jane Austen. And I don't know Chariots of Apollo.
True crime is great fun to read (if fun is the right word).

Cathy said...

OK. Given your experience with all the above books - knowing the impact of each book on your heart-mind-soul - which book had the most profound effect and would you regret having missed even more than the others? (I'm not stating this well - am I ?)

KGMom said...

OK Cathy--I am going to cheat again.
I will pick ONE per category. They are almost not comparable (the categories) so I fell justified in cheating. How's that for rationalizing?
Classics--Huck Finn
Modern Fiction--Gilead
Non-Fiction--King Leopold's Ghost.

A word about the last two. Gilead is a small treasure. It is about an aging father who has a 7 year old son. The father knows he will die soon, (bad heart) so he begins to explain himself to his son. Along the way, he explores faith, family, generations, friendship. Just a delight of a book.
King Leopold's Ghost is about the Congo (once called the Belgium Congo) and how King Leopold of Belgium raped the country, and plundered everything for his own personal gain. Then a shipping clerk in Antwerp noticed a trade imbalance. Ships coming in from the Congo were loaded with goods; ships going out were empty. And he wondered why. He stumbled upon the colonial era's dirtiest secret. And helped blow the whistle.

Vagogan said...

As a math grad student, I have a feeling that most of the books I read aren't suited for this sort of list... but in response to my dad's mention of books about Africa, I have to say that Alan Paton's "Cry, the Beloved Country" is at the top of any list I might try to put together. (Although I'll confess to being somewhat of a LOTR fanatic as well...)

For non-fiction, it must be Jared Diamond's "Collapse", simply out of sheer relevance. Or, along the same lines, and written by a Canadian to boot, Ronald Wright's "A Short History of Progress". Both are powerful warnings, and more than a little frightening...

Cathy said...

Donna! I just found this. Yea! Now I know where to begin. Thanks so much.