Desert Island Reads

Islets off the Pembrokeshire coast © C A Lovegrove

Here’s a fun idea the imaginative and inventive imyril thought up recently for the meme Wyrd & Wonder (which celebrates all things fantastical).Desert Island Discs – the classic BBC radio show that inspired this post – allows players to take (a) eight musical tracks (not albums!), (b) a single book (plus the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible or a more appropriate religious / philosophical book of choice as a freebie) and (c) a random ‘luxury’ item to make island life bearable.”

For Desert Island Reads, imyril switches things around. “Castaways may have: (a) eight books – your Desert Island Reads float ashore in a watertight chest, phew! (b) a podcast, TV show or movie – for when you really can’t read any more, (c) one thing you just can’t do without — favourite food, something comforting, a touch of luxury – this can be pretty much whatever you like, so long as it’s inanimate, can’t help you escape or communicate with the outside world. (Don’t worry: you already have access to any medication you require to manage medical conditions, plus a well-stocked first aid kit.)”

I thought I might find this easy, but it turns out I was wrong: I should have taken warning from the fact that my notional choice of eight pieces of music for Desert Island Discs would vary from day to day, even hour to hour! Nevertheless, here goes.

St Catherine’s Island, Tenby © C A Lovegrove

Eight books

  1. The Lord of the Rings. Well, you sort of expected that. Despite the fact I’ve only recently embarked on yet another reread of Tolkien‘s saga it’s clear there’s no guarantee I’ll be rescued within the timespan of a decade, in which case I’d be ready for a seventh read. And I guess most of my subsequent choices will, like LOTR, be also about imaginary worlds.
  2. I think next it’d have to be something by Susanna Clarke. It’d be a toss-up between the exquisite Piranesi or else Jonathan Stange and Mr Norell. Probably JS&MN would win out because it’s another chunkster like LOTR. Alternatively, if the publishers ever brought out a slipcase edition of these two plus The Ladies of Grace Adieu I’d say “Thank you very much” — except I don’t think that’d be in the spirit of this challenge…
  3. This might count as another cheat: The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. Why? Well, as well as a few handy maps it gives a synopsis of the key features and history of all the islands, regions and continents that have featured in well over a thousand works of fiction from all over the world, and so virtually counts as a compendium of them all. My edition is from 1980, and I understand that later editions have many more entries so I’d like the latest, please.
  4. Lacking any ability to choose any single work by the singular Diana Wynne Jones I’m going for Reflections: on the Magic of Writing, which describes itself as a “collection of more than twenty-five critical essays, speeches, and biographical pieces” chosen by her before her death in 2011. She describes her creative processes and discusses most of her fiction one way and another so it’ll do as a sort of substitute for her fantasies.
  5. And now I should list some titles I haven’t yet read. So many people rated Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree mighty highly that I felt honour bound to acquire a copy but — and this is a big ‘but’ — at well over 800 pages I haven’t yet dared to delve into it. Well, on a desert island I shall have no excuse not to do so, encouraged by reviews dubbing it a “feminist Lord of the Rings.”
  6. I’ve always wanted to read more traditional tales from outside a Western tradition, and have had my eye on a book bequeathed by my parents from when my father was a marine engineer in the China Seas. From Moscow’s Foreign Language Publishing House comes a title in the Library of Soviet Literature (that helps date it, no? It was published in 1957) and The Enchanted Prince: Book Two of the Adventures of Khoja Nasreddin by Leonid Solovyov, is a compendium of folk tales about a trickster and teller of tall tales. My father dedicated it to my mother with the words “As a change from Earl Stanley Gardner,” but I’m not at all convinced she ever read it.
  7. And now another compendium which I bought ten years ago and still haven’t dipped into, despite having a selection of distinguished writers represented in its pages. This is Stories: All-New Tales edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. Why I haven’t yet sampled it, despite including Roddy Doyle, Joanne Harris, Jodi Picoult, Michael Moorcock and Diana Wynne Jones (among many others), I really don’t know.
  8. Finally, a volume related to the one thing I really can’t do without — it’d have to be something by the creative J S Bach, and there’s so much of his excellent keyboard music to choose from — the suites, the inventions, the partitas — but I’m going to go for his unfinished Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 906, because it’s a fantasia and therefore fantasy, no? Alternatively, an urtext edition of the Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues. Just because.

For when I can’t read any more

Hmm. I’ve not really delved much into podcasts so it’ll have to be a TV show or movie. I really liked the TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and though the third series has yet to air I’m guessing it’ll be as good as the first two, and I haven’t already included any Pullman in my list of eight books.

If all three series are not allowed then it’ll have to be the first anime I ever watched and was then blown away by and that’s Miyazaki’s Spirited Away; but I’d be just as happy with My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, or even, at a pinch, the devastating Grave of the Fireflies.

One thing I can’t do without

A piano. An upright or a concert grand, I’m not proud. Preferably self-tuning. Even a decent electric piano would do, assuming I can get get electricity from a renewable source such as a wind turbine, a tidal energy source or solar power — surely not too much to ask on a desert island?! My Russian piano-teacher back in Hong Kong in the 1950s advised “Bach! Bach! And more Bach!” for me when I left. (Her Bach was no worse than her bite, I can tell you!) With a piano I can finally get down to tackling those preludes and fugues I’ve mostly steered clear of, perhaps get on with completing Bach’s unfinished fantasia and fugue, and composing more of my own miniatures.

Okay, them’s me choices. Given this is a meme about things fantastical what would you have chosen?

Image by Svetlana Alyuk on

53 thoughts on “Desert Island Reads

  1. I’ve long had my ‘desert island books’ page which contains my top 100 books – which would wash up in a big waterproof chest – you can fit 100 paperbacks in a big chest!!! My list has both Susanna Clarke’s novels on – I think Piranesi edges out JS&MN for me – but only just.

    Mad Men to watch, and a piano for me too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now you mention it, Annabel, your page rings a bell — I shall potter over presently and refresh my memory. I don’t exactly know how Piranesi wove its spell — a simple synopsis appears to reveal something very slight — but I do know the choice between that and JS&MN for me would be a difficult one.

      I never got into Mad Men (it was my partner’s vice and she guarded it jealously) but I’m glad to note another pianist needs that essential adjunct!


  2. jjlothin

    (b) is easy: complete boxset (series 1-7) of The Shield – all life is here …

    My immediate reaction was to say bean-to-cup espresso machine inc infinite supply of high-class beans till your ‘piano’ made me think …

    (a) I’ll have to ponder on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, would ‘The Shield’ count as fantasy? Nevertheless, 88 episodes would certainly keep you going for a significant time if rescue from your island wasn’t immanent! And on a desert island you could grow your own coffee surely? For certain pianos don’t grow on trees…

      I too had to think long and hard about books, so I’m hoping any future replies won’t muddy the waters too much regarding my own choices!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. jjlothin

        Good point re the coffee – though I don’t think I’d be able to create a gizmo with the sufficient pressure to make home-grown/roasted beans strong enough!

        However, it would all give me a wonderful opportunity to re-train my now scattered and superficial powers of attention (thanks, Internet!) so that I’d be prepared to give the time and energy necessary to reading once again hefty classics like Crime & Punishment …

        Liked by 1 person

          1. jjlothin

            [One of those Laughing Out Loud emoticons to go here!]

            If my attempts to write were not akin to squeezing blood from a stone, drop by drop, you might have something there!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. jjlothin

              I would also have to have a functioning PC – I’m far too impatient to write by hand and I loathe touchscreens.

              Hmmm, I think I’ll go for the piano instead!

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful choices–I’d love something from Studio Ghibli as well.

    I must look up a copy of the Khoja Nasseridin tales–I’ve seen a TV adaptation and come across (though not read) some children’s versions but not a full version one, though my Misha magazines as a child did have these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d come across some Nasruddin tales in Idries Shah’s The Way of the Sufi back in the 1970s and still have my copy of that, but they were by no means complete (if complete they can ever be); so The Enchanted Prince, even though it’s the second of two volumes, appears to be more comprehensive. I’m also leery of Shah now after questions were raised about sources for his version of the Rubaiyyat, as I discussed in my review:

      Do you have a Studio Ghibli favourite? Or do you, like me, find it hard to choose? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I really should have plunged into Murdoch by now, Liz: I have a copy of A Fairly Honourable Defeat which Murdoch specialist Anne Rowe (who co-directs our local literary festival) thought would appeal to me, and it sits on an ‘imminent TBR’ shelf for me to read soon. But glad you like my other choices!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh this is fun!!! You’ve got some super choices there. I think you’re very brave taking books you’ve not read before.

    I would take Lord of the Rings; Wyrd Sisters by Pratchett, Altered Carbon by Morgan, Clan of the Cave Bear by Auel, Speaker for the Dead by Card, Revenge of the Sith by Stover, Do androids dream of electric sheep by Dick, and Dune by Herbert. Oh but what about Philip Pulman’s Dark Materials series, or Fiest’s Magician? And how would I live without comics and graphic novels? This really is harder than it seems!

    For TV I would take all of the Star Wars: the Clone Wars animated series and my special something would be art materials and a snorkelling kit (counts as one because I want to paint underwater animals – that is unless my desert island is in more of a Scottish climate – then I will pass on the snorkel.)

    PS: I’m so glad you liked Spirited Away – it’s such a wonderful film.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that this is indeed harder than it seems! Even for (maybe especially for) a choice limited just to fantasy. Of the ones where our reading overlaps, I couldn’t choose between Pratchett novels, and I’ve only read a handful anyway; I admired the Herbert but couldn’t read it again; I’ve read DADOES twice now but would probably go for The Man in the High Castle if I had to choose; and I’ve read HDM possibly three times now which is why I went for the dramatisation. If I had to choose a graphic novel I’d probably plump for Watchmen; I haven’t tried any of the other authors you’ve mentioned — yet — but thanks for alerting me.

      A snorkeling kit: well, I miss swimming but it’d have to be a sleepy lagoon and not a cold Loch to tempt me — unless a wet suit is thrown in as a freebie!


      1. I do love some of Pratchett’s stories. The witches and the guards mainly. I re-read the Man in High Castle recently but didn’t enjoy it as much as I have in the past. I can’t work out why. I really loved it the first time around. I thought about going for Martian Timeslip instead of DADOES, but I stuck with the androids in the end. Despite reading a lot of graphic novels I’ve never actually read Watchmen. I know it’s supposed to have deconstructed super heroes and been quite a good book but the super hero thing just doesn’t grab me at all.

        Anyway, super interesting post – thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That Dictionary of Imaginary Places is a wonderful dipping-into book even for someone who doesn’t read a great deal of fantasy. But eight books! I need to think about such a list, but it would have at least one Russian on it, maybe Life & Fate, and I suppose counting all of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond novels as one would be cheating. I’d go with Alec Guinness’s George Smiley dramatizations and a small case of drawing and painting supplies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Drawing and painting supplies would be a possible option for me too, Julé, if a piano was impossible, or an endless supply of writing materials, or — well, all of them, really. As only fantasy was stipulated for this meme I didn’t consider any non-fantasy titles, but I can see that chunkster Russian novels might be a draw or an endless supply of mysteries!

      Oh, and I have the first Smiley waiting to be read — I’ve only read two (one each near either end of his career) so I’ve a lot of catching up to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve not properly delved into my choices but if and when I do I don’t think we will have many overlapping titles. Ain’t diversity wonderful!

    And, as I write, I hear Roy Plomley and “by the Sleepy Lagoon” and I am transported back through the decades.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do like diversity, but I’m also drawn to certain types of fantasy (not all appeals) which allows me free rein away from the quotidian mundanity which is otherwise omnipresent! And in any case isn’t the dream of a sleepy lagoon a form of truly escapist fantasy? 🙂

      Having said all that, I’m now reading a novel about a family from a mixed Jewish-Catholic marriage in Liverpool between the wars, a fiction which parallels a reality for many at the time but is as far away from Tolkienesque or Narnian magic as it can be: A Palace of Strangers is by Sam Youd who, as John Christopher, also wrote SF such as the Tripods trilogy, along with romances, cricket novels and thrillers under other pseudonyms. There’s diversity for you!


    1. The Goldberg Variations are wonderful, though I can only get to grips with playing a handful of them. There are also his keyboard suites, partitas and keyboard concerti to savour — what a prodigious talent the man had!


  7. I wouldn’t take any books at all. I’d take my Kindle! Complete with the zillions of “Complete Works” I’ve downloaded and never read more than one or two of – Scott, Conrad, Rider Haggard, Wilkie Collins, HG Wells, etc. This means that my waterproof box would be nearly empty, so I’d fill it with lots of chocolate – always good for emergencies! My DVD would of course be Pride and Prejudice – the 1995 version, obviously. I’d take my guitar – surely with all that time on my hands I’d eventually master the F-chord…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, imyril was quite clear on Kindles and the like: “No, you can’t have a fully-loaded ebook reader. Nice try”! Not that I cope with ereaders—I’ve tried, but no. As for P&P, yes, Jennifer Ehle was most believable, not a classic beauty (I just could not see Keira Knightley as being the plain sister whose looks were disparaged by Darcy).

      And a guitar, good idea! If I wasn’t allowed my self-tuning piano a guitar would definitely do as a replacement — so long as I was supplied with an unending set of spare strings! In the absence of time out on your island I wish you luck with your F chord, you’ll get there, and then that gives you access to all those other barre chords… 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I would take the Andras Schiff Talks from Wigmore Hall on the Beethoven Piano Sonatas. A piano would be wonderful, but could be hard to maintain. Maybe its time to teach myself the piano accordian. As for books….too difficult. Maybe the Philip Pullman Dark Materials Series, a Collected Poems that includes Eliot, Tennyson, Koch, Donne, Shakespeare etc, a Collected Robertson Davies and the complete works of Anne B Ragde in English translation. Of course I reserve the right to change my mind about any of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s tough, isn’t it? I approve the Andras Schiff choice, Gert, I’ve enjoyed the few writings of his I’ve read, most memorably a piece on humour in Haydn’s music. A piano accordion? Hmm. Of course only the Pullman series counts as fantasy (as stipulated by the rules of this meme) but given that the idea of being a castaway with all these luxuries to hand is utterly fantastical who am I to quibble? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  10. Jonathan Strange is on my list too. It’s a book that just gets better with each reading (however long that takes). I might even take the audiobook version, because I’ve been told it’s great. And Studio Ghibli is brilliant: Howl’s Moving Castle is a sentimental favorite (I saw this one first) but Spirted Away is an all-time favorite. Thanks for talking about these books / accessories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d be curious as to how the audio version of JS&MN managed the footnotes, perhaps if you ever get it you’d be able to say?

      And, yes, Studio Ghibli is something special. We watched an offering from its successor Studio Ponoc, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, which had some of that magic, though I wasn’t as impressed as I’d been with most of the animes directed by Miyazaki himself. Anyway, glad you liked my discussion! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Luxury item – a chocolate manufacturing machine (with never ending supply of cocoa beans, milk, flavourings of course).

    TV show – I’m hoping a boxed set would be allowed. If so, I’m going for West Wing. If that’s rejected I’ll opt for the tv adaptation of Brideshead Revisited

    Now to the tricky bit, the books. I don’t do fantasy/sci fi as you know but in your honour I’ll throw one in: Station Eleven by Emily Mantel. Middlemarch has to be in the mix. After that I’m stumped. I need a glass of wine to help me decide ..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chocolate is hard to resist — but not just any chocolate of course — and if you manage to source your machine I may, nay, will need to know who the suppliers are. And now a confession: I’ve never watched The West Wing. But it does sound an excellent choice for whenever one’s marooned! The Waugh — which tv adaptation would you go for, the early one or the most recent?

      Station Eleven has had high praise (and having you, less than lukewarm about the genre, mention it has raised it even further in my estimation! A pandemic plus a company of actors — a parable for our own times — and a reminder that I must read Hag Seed, more Shakespeare plus another Canadian connection.


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