Quantcast

Deserted Isle Books: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

[This is the final entry in our Deserted Isle Books series, in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]


I can’t honestly imagine being stranded on a beach. Woman verses the elements? Not this girl. I’ve never roughed it; I didn’t take Survival in high school and my Girl Scout troop vacationed on Cape Cod. All of my experience with camping has involved masses of friends. Running water. Coolers of beer. Bug spray. I’ve stayed up all night on the beach, but in the morning we drove to a diner for breakfast. Aside from Martha’s Vineyard I’ve never even been on an island.

Like Shannon on Lost, I have asthma and allergies. I burn easily and too much sun gives me migraines. I’m clumsy and would never be able to steady my stance long enough to catch a fish. I’ve never been able to shimmy up a tree so I’d have nowhere to hide from hungry animals. I’m not especially fast. I’d be easy prey—the carnivores would take me down the first night. Or I’d make it a week and be so beat up by the experience that I’d give in and float myself face-down out to sea.

I wouldn’t want my favorite book along for this miserable journey. And I don’t think I’ve read the “best” book out there. But I do have a story that soothes me, a style that comforts me, a buddy book.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: One Hundred Years Of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

[Deserted Isle Books is our latest series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]


My choice for a deserted isle book was immediate, and so were my doubts. I read poetry every day. The bookshelves in my bedroom (not to mention the bedside tables and several stacks on the floor) are all poetry. I feel like a traitor to the cause at the mere thought of choosing a novel over Rilke’s Duino Elegies or Alan Dugan’s Poems 7. But there was no other choice; it had to be Gabriel García Márquez’s 100 Years Of Solitude.

Perhaps this is because I’m taking the premise literally. I’m not choosing a favorite book. I’m choosing the one book I think might best stave off madness and despair if I had nothing else to read (and little else to do) for the rest of my life. I would need intrigue, tragedy, politics, humor, mystery, romance, and violence. I would need memorable scenes, great dialogue, and some way to hang elements of my lost life and lost world on this one book.

An excellent book of poems will give you all of those things. But only the epics such as the Odyssey or the Aeneid (come on, David Ferry, we’re waiting!) give you a long, complex story with many characters to keep you company. And it is precisely those two things: company and a story, that are necessary. Left with nothing but the four walls of my mind to scratch against in an exile of unknowable, perhaps interminable, duration, I would need a sense of time passing, the this, then that of plot to give structure to my life.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: Bouvard and Pécuchet, by Gustave Flaubert

[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]

Of course, if you’re going to be stranded on a deserted island for the rest of your life, or if you know that such a catastrophe (or adventure) is about to occur—or has the potential to occur because the journey on which you’re about to embark is dangerous, probably foolish, and the crew looks somewhat sketchy, and the ship itself (or plane or zeppelin) is patched together from salvaged parts, and you’ve forgotten to tell anyone at home exactly where you’re going (I’ve done this twice already and I was underprepared both times: Hoyle’s was not a good choice, let me tell you)—you want to pack accordingly. I’d probably want to select the longest and most desirable read I haven’t read yet,  Remembrance of Things Past, the whole damn thing, which, I think, would suit me just fine, and I can imagine myself living quite happily, actually, reclining with my Proust beneath a lone palm—please God let there be at least one palm—alternately reading and dozing, as I am wont to do, a shard of coconut serving as my own madeleine, my own catalyst for reflections on the past and time and memory and loss, of which there will be plenty.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: All-Star Superman

[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]


There’s something a bit unsettling at the heart of the Deserted Isle scenario, isn’t there? There’s no “until you’re rescued” clause, no guarantee that you’ll lose the concept of time and your island excursion will become some sort of fanciful dream. No, you’re stranded for good, no hope of escape, the life you knew over.

You’re going to die alone. It might be from old age, or a coconut to the head, or perhaps terminal chafing, but it’s all the same in the end. And because washing up on the island is basically death itself, then the question of what book you’d bring with you is really asking how you would design those final moments. It’s fitting, then, that I’ve chosen a book that’s all about what a man does when death comes to call. Well, not just “a” man. Superman.

All-Star Superman is a twelve-issue series written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by friend and frequent collaborator Frank Quitely, and digitally inked and colored by Jamie Grant. It launched in the Fall of 2005 as part of DC Comics short-lived All-Star line, which promised top-flight talent telling stories outside of DC continuity, thus offering room for looser interpretations of iconic characters. The only other title published under the banner, Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s still-unfinished All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder featured a manic, gleefully violent, vigilante-as-bad-parent version of Batman, reversing a two-decade trend of ultra-serious Batman stories that, arguably, began with Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. All-Star Superman is that book’s opposite number, calm where the other is frenetic, hopeful where the other is cynical. The cover of the first issue says it all: Superman sitting on a cloud overlooking Metropolis, elbows resting on his knees, looking over his shoulder at the reader and smiling warmly. It invites, rather than demands, your attention.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens

So, okay, for starters, a deserted island book should be long. And sure, it should be complicated enough to make it worth reading and puzzling over again and again. Of course it should be both dense and entertaining in nearly lethal doses. But how about this? I want to be able to read it in any order I like, flip it open to any page and start anew, as if the first sentence my eyes landed on were the beginning of a whole new book, without any loss to the coherence of the whole.

It would also be nice if the book gave me something to do other than simply reading it for comprehension, a project beyond finishing it and then finishing it again. I’d like a book I that leant itself to memory, something with a little form and rhythm, so I could read it and read it until I knew it by heart.

That’s right. I’m talking about a book of poetry. Specifically, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: The Voice of Things, by Francis Ponge

[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]

The voice of things.

My copy of The Voice of Things, by French prose poet Francis Ponge, is well worn― split in the spine on page 32, my favorite pages turned down in the top corner.  Though he ran in the 1920′s surrealist circles of Breton and Giacometti, literary recognition came late in Ponge’s career, and The Voice of Things was not published until 1942.

Ponge takes objects and describes them― lyrically, fancifully, but mainly simply and directly.  Rain, the candle, the oyster, all become the subjects of his prose poems.  In “The Pleasures of Doors,” he notes that kings never experience the joy of pulling a handle gently until the latch clicks.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: The Fool’s Progress

[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]


Were I to leave tomorrow on some sort of ocean voyage, I would take along Mat Johnson’s Pym, the book I’m currently balls-deep in, since it would be the only book in my luggage. And it seems an appropriate choice for a high-seas adventure, as Pym is a satirical response to Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a novel about a whaling ship stowaway who gets shipwrecked.

But choosing the book I’m reading now doesn’t keep with the spirit of this idea. And although I’m not the type to pack for an ocean voyage expecting to end up stranded on a deserted isle, I’m always willing to fantasize for (and about?) the dudes here at C4.

I’m tempted to choose a thick, engrossing, thriller-type novel. Stephen King’s The Stand and Dean Koontz’s Strangers jump immediately to mind. I haven’t read either since the mid-90s, but remember being totally consumed by both.

The question is, for how long will I be stranded? If I’m going to be rescued in a week or two, the King or Koontz would be a good pick; the kind of time-passing stories that would help me escape reality. But if I’m stranded for the rest of my life, how long would it take for me to get sick of these books? Both writers do a fair job of character development, but in essence they’re both plot-driven. And how many times can you read the same plot before growing weary of it? By the third read I’d be thinking, “Okay, I get it, Koontz/King. Supervirus, aliens, Nevada, good vs. evil. Now I shall use your book to wipe my ass, because these coconut husks just ain’t cuttin’ it. (Or, actually, these coconut husks are cutting it).”
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: Maus, by Art Spiegelman

[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]

For many years I would not read it.  A comic book about the Holocaust?  Nationalities reduced to animal species?  Auschwitz renamed Mauschwitz, like some sadistic Disneyworld attraction?  Even its Pulitzer Prize was not enough to convince me.

Then I met the man who would become my husband.   I accepted his enthusiasm for the graphic novel format grudgingly, as one often accepts the quirks of one’s mate.  Having never cracked the spine of a single graphic work, I believed the genre was the exclusive domain of men with marginal personal hygiene.  My someday-to-be-husband’s all-time favorite of the graphic genre?  Maus, the very book I swore I’d never read.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain

So I’m on a desert island. John Donne be damned. Of course, my first concern is to check that I’ve packed the one and only book I’ve been allowed to bring. Luckily, I’m prepared and I whip out my copy of Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.

Arriving at this choice was much more difficult. First posed with the question of what to take, my immediate ideas turned out to be rubbish. I considered the Bible. What better choice for a man in need of some serious faith? Almost immediately, my selection starts to break down. Most of the New Testament is about relating to other people, which is no longer pertinent given my current circumstances. The Old Testament still seems to hold some merit. That’s the kind of god that would get a kick out of sticking some poor bloke out on an island to let him rot. But once again, I’m alone on this island. And in the absence of another human consciousness, I’m now my own god. So, to hell with the Bible.

A nice bit of pornography comes to mind next. A little good morning sunshine in the form of an inviting nude might get me through my rougher moods. But while an improvement over developing an unhealthy relationship with a volleyball, the prospect of having conversations with a tattered, wind-blown pin-up is too sad to contemplate.
Continue reading »

Deserted Isle Books: Metamorphoses, by Ovid

[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell's, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]

Making my own holy book.

If I found myself stranded on a desert island the one book I would want to be stuck with would be sprawling and epic. It wouldn’t tell one story, but many. That way I would always have on hand something to fit my mood. I’d want a living world and a variety of intangibles and ideas, not an unbreakable plot with a beginning, middle, and end to retrace ad infinitum. That book would be my one source of entertainment, of companionship, of inspiration and of escape. I’m not religious, but I almost picked The Bible.

That’s exactly the kind of book I’d need to survive. I read The Bible a lot when I was  a kid. I loved the stories and the characters and the lessons. Even at a very young age though, I never thought of them as more than stories. I remember being weirded out by the few people at my Episcopal church that seemed to take the thing literally, it seemed to me they were missing the point. I first read Metamorphoses in college, and it grabbed me in a very similar manner. I’ve since read it in 3 different translations.*
Continue reading »