Which books would you take to a desert island?

A photo from my trip to Malawi in 2009

I always have been, and always will be, surrounded by books. There’s a photo of a much younger me face down asleep on the floor of my bedroom, books scattered everywhere around me. I was also completely naked. Nowadays, I tend to read while dressed, and my reading collection is considerably more organised.

So, the old and rather overused desert island question. I haven’t quite decided how many books you’re allowed to take to the middle of the sea with you, but I’ll say that five is my allocated amount. If I had it my way, the island would have an underground library, or I’d somehow hijack a neighbouring island for storage purposes.

First on the list would be a piece of philosophy that I always seem to write about, I’m afraid. I do find it superior to any other philosophical text, however (strong words!) The text in question is Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, a piece of stoicism that I first heard about in Jules Evans’s Philosophy for Life: And Other Dangerous Situations. Evans tells of how a soldier he researched took only this book with him into the armed forces, as it carried all the guidance and consolation he needed. Like my copy, his was covered with underlines and annotations. When I get my copy of Philosophy for Life back from my mother, I’ll quote the section I mean in a post. On the confines of my hypothetical island, I’d refer to the mighty Aurelius to help me get out of bed on lazy mornings (or whatever you sleep on on an island). He’s a philosopher that helps you lose all negativity towards both situations and others.

Next would be The Odyssey. I admit, it’s a very obvious choice. But if you ignore the threat of being stuck in the middle of the sea, and perhaps unable to ever return home, imagine how perfect reading The Odyssey would be on an island! Although, perhaps the plot would ring home a bit too true…

Clearly I’d have to bring something by Tolstoy. I’m going to avoid being predictable by saying War and Peace, and instead choose Tolstoy’s short stories – they’re just as encompassing of human life, which is what I look for in a good book. The Forged Coupon teaches of the butterfly effect, of how every good or bad act you commit reverberates through humankind with similarly positive or negative repercussions. Then there’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy’s iconic exploration of death. I’m sure that I could read it many times over.

I’d like to add The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to my brief list, as it would hopefully prevent me becoming malevolent and bad-hearted. No one wants an evil female island dweller.

My fifth choice is likely to be Ganarás La Luz by León Felipe. Having this would enable me to retain my knowledge of Spanish, although I’m unsure how useful that would be. It’s a fantastic poetry collection regardless, with all its intertextuality, politics, and beauty of language. I’ve posted a lot of my translations from it on this blog.

There are my five choices. This hypothetical list will undoubtedly change with time, but I’m sure that these choices will still remain firm favourites. I keep my few most valued books on the left of my windowsill, all piled up. If I find myself suddenly summoned to a desert island, I’ll be prepared!


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It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.

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