I have a daydream game that I have played now and then for many years. I thought I’d share it with you, and see what you think of my choices, and what yours would be as well.
It’s quite simple. Assume you are about to be transported to a desert island where you will spend the rest of your life. You may take ten books with you. What 10 would you choose? The rules are simple: multi volume works are allowed as long as they connect as a continuation. Thus the complete works of Mark Twain is not acceptable, since each work stands alone. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire does qualify, since the division into volumes is an arbitrary division and no volume stands alone.
The point is, if you are a serious reader, as I think of myself, this is a painful exercise. One tends to lean toward large books, simply because one might be reading them several times in a lifetime. One wants to get the fullest range of possibilities. One wants the biggest bang for one’s buck as it were. I have to honestly say, I’ve never completed the list of ten. I tend to get bogged down at around half or so. But here is the list that I have at present:
- The Bible. Anyone who is religious knows the relative merits of reading and rereading the bible in the first place. In the second, it has so many different kinds of prose, poetry, and writing styles that it remains interesting. Of course it can make you a better person, but on a desert island, this may be fairly irrelevant anyway.
- The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Arguably the greatest writer of all time, no one can go wrong with this selection. Lots of great stories, and lots of thinking are in store for you. The archaic English allows for more thoughtful reading, trying to discern the meaning of words. Shakespeare simply delights everyone with his ability to turn a phrase and tell a great yarn.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This typically comes in three volumes. It is a masterpiece of historical proportions, and has a huge compendium of lessons to be learned if we were but to spend the time. It’s readable and will bear up well a second and third reading.
- The Complete Works of Thomas Aquinas. Multi-volume work, chock full of theological insights. In combination with the Bible, you can spend years dissecting both. Aquinas remains amazingly readable to the average person as well.
- War and Peace. A great fun read with lots of characters, lots of history, and well, its long!
- Metropolitan Museum of Art. A coffee table book, but huge and just chock full of great photographs of some of the more important works of art with nice commentary about them. Educational, visually delightful, something that you can return to again and again.
- East of Eden. One of my all time favorite John Steinbeck novels. Although Grapes of Wrath gets all the attention, I thought the characters in East of Eden were so compelling. I hated when it was over.
- Don Quixote. A delightful story that tells as much about the author and his fears about the Inquisition as it does about politics and life in Spain. Its a comedic tour de force, a literary masterpiece in my opinion, and just great fun to read.
- Dante’s Inferno. Just beautifully done, lots to ponder and think about. Another one you can read the bible along side of and glean some interesting new insights.
- The Plays of Aristophanes. Much like Shakespeare, we can learn so much about the human condition and the manner of thinking in ancient Greece. Plenty of history, social living, comedy, politics, all crammed into delightful plays, some of them downright hilarious.
That’s my list today. Next week, I might change three or four, depending on my mood. I’d love to include something like Oliver Twist or Augustine’s City of God, or a dozen other things like Madame Bovary or Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I could go on and on. I would often include some poetry, perhaps Wordsworth or Frost. I’d really like to hear some of your choices!