Pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules!

Now that’s set your teeth on edge, hasn’t it, proper French speakers?

I had a very unoriginal thought today.  I googled it and discovered that it was in fact even more unoriginal than I imagined. I was looking at my books, all 2,000 of them piled vertically now (for cat fur/ease of hoovering reasons) into a high stack of de-shelved book cases.  It suddenly struck me, if I had to take the complete works of a very limited number of authors to a desert island with me – say, ten – which authors would I choose?

Now this isn’t as easy as it seems. It would be no good taking to a desert island a book with a thrilling but memorable plot, for example. However good it was, what would be the point of reading it again?

No good taking anything too distinctive, either. Harry Potter, for instance. I loved reading Harry Potter, each new book as eagerly anticipated as if I had been thirteen and three quarters rather than middle-aged. But once you’ve read them the surprise is gone out of them – they were whizz-bangs when they landed on our bookshelves but now… they’ve fizzled.

Not really much point in taking thrillers or detective novels, for the same reason. You might not think you remember whodunit but as soon as you start to read, you will.

And humour probably wouldn’t travel well. Only so many times you can laugh at a conversation between Bertie Wooster and Jeeves whilst fishing in the sea with a piece of string and an improvised hook, or trying to persuade yourself that shredded palm leaves are edible. Jokes are best not repeated – to the same audience – yourself.

No, the books would have to be kind of meaty. The sort that, though they may be a bit of a struggle to get into, pay dividends on later reflection. Also books with plots so labyrinthine that it is impossible to remember them on re-reading.

But you’d also need an element of comfort reading. So some of your books would be there just because they reminded you of home in some way – winter afternoons by the fire and snow falling outside; long walks down country lanes kicking autumn leaves with your wellies – whatever.

I’m thinking that, as with Desert Island Discs, a few ‘master’ works should be taken for granted – found in a deserted cabin, chewed a bit by moths but still perfectly readable, say. I believe Desert Island Discs allows castaways to assume The Complete Works of Shakespeare and a copy of the Bible, and I would add the Complete Works of Dickens. (It’s my island, I can make Dickens be in the deserted cabin if I want to. Maybe I’ll put the skeleton of the previous inhabitant in there too…)

Of course, the books you take may also reflect the age you happen to be when cast away. If you are twenty, say, you will have longer to savour the books of your choice, but also longer to get heartily sick of them. If you are ninety-five you might want to be more rigorously selective still, or take rather more spiritually-inclined reading matter.

So this is my list, in no particular order Still a work in progress. As you will see at the end I still haven’t managed to whittle it down to ten. I did consider simply putting the total up to twenty, but that seemed like cheating.

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. A S Byatt
  3. Neil Gaiman
  4. Annie Proulx
  5. Charlotte Brontë
  6. Rose Tremain
  7. Alice Munro
  8. George McKay Brown (non-fiction, comfort reading)
  9. Ellis Peters (comfort reading – how could you be on a desert island and not have Cadfael for company?)
  10. ….

And here’s where I’m stuck. I feel I should take at least one author that I always felt I should read but only ever got round to reading around the edges of – so I’m torn at the moment between George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and Aldous Huxley. Maybe Huxley would be a bit dated? Trollope would certainly be meaty but… as well as Dickens? And Eliot – is she perhaps one of those authors you feel you ought to read but Life’s Too Short for – like whoever perpetrated Moby Dick and War and Peace? Not to mention Ulysses. I carted that fat paperback of Ulysses around with me for years when I was a student: never managed to get beyond the first page.

I don’t know… I don’t know… And remember you have got to take all their works – pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules! as I like to imagine they would say in Brussels. So you can’t take Howard’s End and leave the posthumous Maurice behind, or take the whole of Neil Gaiman except American Gods which is just too long.

To digress slightly. Having just discovered (after how many years?) that I can watch more or less unlimited dramas and TV series on my Kindle Fire for absolutely-free merely by tapping on that dull little icon top right – who knew? – I launched into American Gods on video, thinking I might find it more digestible.

They were putting each other’s eyes out! Severed limbs were flying through the air! I don’t remember that, in the twenty percent of the book I did manage to get through. So I plumped for The Night Manager.

To digress again. I read a comment on the internet by a girl who felt it should correctly be deserted, not desert island, since how many islands do you find in the desert? Duh! An island with nothing on it but a lot of desert-type sand and perhaps a wobbly palm tree and a man in faded rags with several weeks-worth of stubble – not an island rising majestically from the sands of the Sahara.

Anyway, enough. What would be your ten desert island authors? Or just the first one on the list…

9 thoughts on “Pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules!

  1. At the moment, the first one on my list would be Tana French, since I’m enjoying her books immensely right now. But I’d also have to have Michael Bond, Magdalen Nab, Jon Katz, Andrew Taylor as well. I’d have to think a bit more about the others….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler (comfort), Henry Miller, Montaigne, Dickens and whomever wrote the worlds best how-to guide. I’d like to finish reading Pynchon and Sarte with the hope they are worth multiple reads. Today I feel like rounding out the list with Hemingway and Bertrand Russell but Faulkner, Shaw, Camus, Steinbeck or someone else could be my choices on another day.

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  3. My tablet went wonky and didn’t post the response the other day, but anyway, since it would have to be an author’s entire body of work, I’d take a chance on your Annie Proulx (LOVED “The Shipping News”!), and on Penelope Lively (I was riveted/touched/made better by “The Photograph”). I’ve read everything one could read from and about Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (and Zelda), but perhaps a re-read of them at this and further advancing ages would be like hanging out with friends I knew when young and am discovering anew. Victor Hugo. If I had to pick one poet, it would be Robert Frost. Or Emily Dickinson. Or two, the Brownings. The Brontes (somebody, just throw a tack mat out so my wheels will stop, please.) I love ALL the above suggestions, too. Some new names I’m going to look into!!

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    1. Yes, I loved The Shipping News too. Read the book then saw the film and, unusually, thought the film did the book justice. Another thing on my rough list was a huge volume of poetry. Several things got left out in the writing – Montaigne also. 🙂

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      1. I also wasn’t horrified by the film, but I felt sorry for anyone who’d only seen the movie, for one won’t have plodded along and glimpsed a little love in the universe which became the change of luck that is nothing more than humanity acting decently, even without blinders. Oh, poetry.. one could revisit some endlessly, right? 🙂 Oddly, I wasn’t sure if I’d heard of Montaigne, who seems quite popular! I will look up this author soon!

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      2. Yes, he wrote a huge (lifetime) collection of essays, in fact I think he was the inventor of the essay – he called them his “assays”. Born1533, France. Michel de Montaigne. There’s a good translation of a selection of them by J M Cohen. 🙂


  4. Hmmm! Top 3 might be 1. North Point North by John Koethe (hope poetry is allowed), 2. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. 3. The Trial by Franz Kafka. Montaigne also on list ☺️

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