5 (6…7) Desert island books

One evening recently, from two non-related things which I cannot remember (but were likely asinine trending topics on twitter), my mind caught onto and refused to shake the idea of what would be on my list of ‘desert island books’. I ploughed and perused my heaving bookcase and came to the conclusion that there are few books I could not do without. Don’t get me wrong, they are all great and have survived many clearouts, but a lot of them are referential, thinking books, psycology type stuff, accounts of other peoples adventures, or self-help type things. In a Jeremy Clarkson-esque segue; let me explain further…

There is not a lot to reference on a desert island… depending on which island you find yourself marooned you would require a specific ‘flora and fauna’ book for it to be of any use. Medical texts are pessimistic to include and, like SAS survival type stuff, that information is better carried in your head; although Tom Hanks manages in Castaway without much of either. An atlas may be useful for escaping, but:

  • You might like it there.
  • Tom Hanks didn’t need one.

Once you master the basics of life on a deserted island, you’ll have a lot of time for thinking. You won’t really want to read something interesting but padded out by Malcolm Gladwell. Likewise, you will be both having your own adventure, and staving off boredom along with a range of psychological difficulties… reading about all the fun someone else had before returning home, over and over again, would make you disagreeable to both that person and the idea of writing a book about this very adventure, if you ever return to society (a potentially lucrative income source now you have a big gap in your resume).

Unless you brought a lot of psychology books and an Open University pack with you (so you could leave the island with a qualification to fall back on once the inspirational speaker circuit dries up), you would likely diagnose yourself with more issues than you actually have. Similarly, I think irony would dictate that any self-help books would be utterly unhelpful in the hypothetical situation. Inbox zero, GTD, and 4 Hour Work Weeks are moot concepts in your paradisical purgatory. It would also remove the chance for you to develop your own self-help strategy (bang goes another post-island publishing opportunity), and you would likely turn into a wide-eyed evangelist for the author; which simply is not cool.

Eventually, I formed a list. There were not enough for the standard 10, and I struggled to whittle down to a succinct 5, so ended up with 6; but still unable to recall which is the better of two similar books by the one author, and not having time to re-read them for the sake of a blog post, I included both to be safe. You may be waiting a long time for any GR20 reports so, without further ado, for your consideration, in no particular order, my 7 desert island books:

365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming Dao
Open pondering and wisdom applicable to any situation. It would be a source of comfort, direction, and thought, much as it is anywhere else.

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
A great tale with great characters, who overcome their adversities. Set in time and land removed from our own, the archetypical principles hold eternal appeal. If you get bored you can learn the different languages and sing elven-song around your campfire.

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
My favourite Kerouac book that sees the protaganist team up with a crazy cat to dabble in Bhuddism and seek solitude in the wilds, all to the beat of that alternative generation to America’s golden era. “you can’t fall off a mountain”

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The classic reflection on self-reliance, revelling in the minutia of everyday life in the wilds, and the complications and trappings of society. It is bound to make you feel better about your situation and help you see and enjoy the myriad details of your surroundings.

Without Remorse by Tom Clancey
You need a blatant action novel in there somewhere, if only to maintain perspective on the more nobel texts. To me, this is Clancey’s best. A Clark backstory (Willem Dafoe’s character in Clear & Present Danger) that sees him set out first on a vigilante mission, then covert CIA ops, using his arsenal of nifty skills. If you need to escape the island, his 8-hour ocean swims will be inspirational.

In & Of /Roots & Wings by Jack Haas
Crazy, stream of consciousness, autobiographical books by a modern vagrant. In parts seeker, mystic, bum, prankster, and outdoors man. Haas roller-coasters between society’s fringes and various wilderness, seeking a balance and connection with the earth long lost in the West. Breathless, hilarious, audacious, off the wall, but with an honest truth woven through it, it would surely keep you entertained and feeling positive about the cosmic calamity you are caught up in.

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