Desert Island Books

2003-09-27

If you were being shipped off to a desert island (or, to choose a modern equivalent, L5) and had to whittle your book collection down to ten volumes, which would you take? I know for me there would be some tough choices to make (though I used to own a lot more books than I do now). Here are some books that would probably make the cut:

Only nine! I'd have a really hard time choosing the tenth. Some Sappho, Epicurus, Jefferson, Emerson, Hugo, Ibsen, Bronowski, or Thoreau? More Nietzsche? The Iliad? Or perhaps something eminently practical? It's difficult to say.

If I had my druthers, I'd make my own books: one reader each from Nietzsche, Thoreau, Emerson, Jefferson, and Epicurus. A collection of Ibsen's best plays. And so on.

Ah, I know what the tenth would be: the complete works of Shakespeare. Of course!

Some of the above wouldn't be quite worth taking unless I could also take the originals (not just the translations) and some associated reference books (Greek, German, and Latin dictionaries), but that puts me way over ten volumes, so I suppose I'd have to be satisfied with them in English. (That brings up the matter of my beloved Oxford English Dictionary, but it's way too heavy to lug around, so I'd have to reluctantly leave it behind.)

Why these ten? Obviously they lean heavily to philosophy and literature, as I do in general. But they are also books that I either enjoy contemplating for their own sake, or that I'm still working to puzzle my way through. I'd rather have books that are pregnant with possibilities, that pose difficult and eternal problems, and that repay continued exploration, than to possess books that I "agree" with or whose lessons I've already absorbed. Ask me ten years from now, and I'm sure that the list would be quite different.


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