When asked what five books I would take with me if I was stranded on a desert island, my first reaction was just to name my five favourite books, or at least the first five good books I could think of. But then I got thinking (often a bad idea, I find) about all the ramifications of my choices.
Would I be content to read the books over and over, especially if I knew the stories well already? What about being more practical? Perhaps an encyclopaedia or a book on survival. After all, there would be no point in having great books with me, if I starved to death or died of hypothermia or sun stroke (I told you thinking was a bad idea!).
Perhaps controversially, given that this is Historia, my list is not all historical books. In the end I plumped for a mixture of old favourites, with something practical thrown in. And in most instances, I went for the longest books I could find. I’d have a lot of time on that island to myself and I’ve got a pretty good short-term memory. My long-term memory is not so great, so I am hoping I won’t remember all the details of each book by the time I get back to the first one!
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is my all-time favourite book. It is an epic saga with amazing characters, a richly-detailed historical backdrop and many truly memorable scenes. It is set in the old West of America and has everything you could ask for in a great Western. One of the main parts of the story describes a great cattle drive in which the endearing cast faces terrible adversity, from rustlers and river crossings to outlaws and Indians. Some people might be put off by the setting, believing it to be ‘just’ a Western, but it is so much more than a pulp novel. It is a window into a different time. McMurtry tells the stories of real men and women of the frontier with subtlety and a keen attention to historical detail, but more than that, he lures the reader into the world of Captains Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call and then takes them on a journey that is nothing short of fabulous. Historical fiction writing at its very best. Oh, and if you think G.R.R. Martin kills off characters unexpectedly, McMurtry doesn’t pull any punches and there are some truly jaw-dropping moments!
All that and it weighs in at a hefty 848 pages.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
What is not to love about Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy? I have been a huge fan since I was a child playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends and dreaming I was Aragorn, son of Arathorn. The richness of the world Tolkien created is incredible in its depth and breadth, and the constant echo of Old English and Norse sagas had a massive impact on me and my writing. It is surely not by chance that I found myself writing about Anglo-Saxon Britain, where tales such as those told by Tolkien would reverberate from the soot-stained beams of mead halls. I adore the stories and the characters, but I have to admit I have only managed to complete the trilogy once, despite having read the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, several times. So I would relish the time on the island to be able to read the whole thing in a single edition from cover to cover. I could even try to learn Elvish and Dwarvish from the Appendices!
1178 pages of amazing fantasy.
The Mythago Cycle Volume 1: A Ryhope Wood Omnibus by Robert Holdstock
This omnibus edition is made up of Mythago Wood and Lavondyss, the first two books of the Ryhope Wood series (a series that I have only just discovered has seven books in total, five of which I have not read, so I have some catching up to do!). Winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985, Mythago Wood is one of the most haunting, evocative works of fantasy I have ever read. It is set in late 1940s England, where a man discovers that ancient woodland that grows beside his family home holds incredible secrets and is a nexus for strange, mythical powers and beings. It is hard to describe without giving too much of the story away, but it is one of the few books I have read more than once and would be happy to read again many more times. I read the sequel, Lavondyss, when it was released, but did not like it very much at the time, which is why I stopped with the series. However, as it comes in the same volume, I’ll give it another try. And of course, that gives me more pages.
At 608 pages there’s a lot to like here!
Jerusalem by Alan Moore
The last two books are a bit different, as I haven’t already read them. In fact this first one, Jerusalem, has not even been published yet. There are three good reasons for taking this book with me to a desert island. First, it is written by Alan Moore who is, without a doubt, a genius. He is madly eccentric, but he is the co-creator, along with Dave Gibbons, of one of my favourite books, Watchmen, the biggest selling graphic novel of all time.
Second is the description of the book itself, which includes passages such as, “In these pages lurk demons from the second-century Book of Tobit and angels with golden blood who reduce fate to a snooker tournament. Vagrants, prostitutes, and ghosts rub shoulders with Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce’s tragic daughter Lucia, and Buffalo Bill, among many others.”
And third of course, is the book’s size. It is said to be one million unedited words (1280 pages). Whether any of it will be readable remains to be seen, but I can guarantee I’ll never have the time to find out unless I’m trapped on a desert island far from civilization!
Bushcraft by Ray Mears
For my last book, I have chosen a something pragmatic. I admire Ray Mears’ approach to the wild world and the calm, thoughtful way he goes about educating people to treat the planet we live on with respect. I have a feeling this book would be fascinating and also it would likely help to keep me alive on a remote, uninhabited island.
At 240 pages it is shortest of the books I’d take, but it might just be the only one that could actually save my life.