20 Writers On Their Must-Have Desert Island Read
By the mag
We asked these authors: What book would you take with you to a desert island, and why?
1. EMMA STRAUB // AUTHOR OF THE VACATIONERS
"If I had to take a single book to a desert island, it would be my five-year diary, the cute little Tamara Shopsin one. I've had one for eight years, and written dutifully into it every day. I love being able to look back at what happened years before, and if I were stranded on an island, I think it would be nice to have. But maybe that would be too depressing, in which case I would want something funny, like Nora Ephron or David Sedaris."
2. HANYA YANAGIHARA // AUTHOR OF A LITTLE LIFE
"Japanese Cooking, a Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji. When we moved from Hawaii to Texas in the ’80s—itself a kind of desert island, at least as far as Japanese food was concerned—my parents and I would regularly, and longingly, read this cookbook as if it were not a collection of recipes, but a chronicle of what we'd left behind."
3. AND 4. HOLLY BLACK AND CASSANDRA CLARE // AUTHORS OF THE MAGISTERIUM SERIES
Black: "It’s funny you should ask that, because we went to a semideserted island today and what we learned is that you really need a lot of sunblock. If I wasn’t allowed to take a book telling me how to survive on a desert island (or how to make sunblock from natural things found on desert islands), I would take Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, because it’s beautifully written and very long and I am going to be reading it a lot."
Clare: "I have discovered that unless it is a heavily shaded desert island, I will soon be dead from sunburn. I might as well bring a book I find comforting and reassuring, since I will be spending my last hours with it. I choose The Collected Works of Arthur Conan Doyle, because I really enjoy the Sherlock Holmes stories and when I am done I can read his weird stuff about faeries."
5. POROCHISTA KHAKPOUR // AUTHOR OF THE LAST ILLUSION
"I think Proust's In Search of Lost Time counts as a novel in seven volumes, so I'd do that. It would take a long time to finish and probably the desert island scenario is the only one in which I'd have the attention span to complete it."
6. AND 7. HEATHER COCKS AND JESSICA MORGAN // AUTHORS OF THE ROYAL WE
Morgan: "I am tempted to take a boxed set of Harry Potter—does that flout the rules here, given that it's not technically one book?—because I am infinitely able to reread those books. But maybe I should go in the other direction and bring something long that I've been unable to finish and just give myself desert island homework. Infinite Jest seems like the obvious choice here. Ultimately, I think I'm going to go with the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume One, because early English lit is the class I most often napped through in college, and it might finally be time for me to read the middle bits of Beowulf. I apparently feel like being on this island needs to be intellectually enriching."
Cocks: "It depends. Am I on vacation, or an episode of Lost? If it's the latter, I might bring Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Because it would remind me that no matter how bad I think I have it on this mystery island, at least I am not about to get my head cut off because I stupidly married a notoriously fickle, mercurial jerk with oozing syphilitic leg sores. Anne Boleyn really should've thought that one through a bit more."
8. MALLORY ORTBERG // AUTHOR OF TEXTS FROM JANE EYRE
"I understand that the spirit of this question is 'What book would be most meaningful/helpful to you in a time of great solitude,' not an excuse to think of some dopey loophole like 'a book about how to build a boat!!!' or 'a book with the pages hollowed out full of satellite phones and tools!' So I'd pick A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter Miller, because it's ultimately life-affirming in a way that I think I would need if I were trapped on an island, and also funny and sad and poignant and sweeping in a way that would make it a delight to reread."
9. SARAH VOWELL // AUTHOR OF LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES
"Assuming I had time beforehand to look up how to grow food, make a fire from scratch, and which berries and/or mushrooms to avoid, I reckon Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass would come in handy because it always cheers me up and makes me feel like a brawny, can-do American of yore instead of an indoorsy type who should have paid attention to all those boring demos at Hawaiian resorts on how to crack open a coconut."
10. MEGAN ABBOT // AUTHOR OF THE FEVER
"This is probably a crazy choice, but I’m going to pick one of the longer books I’ve also reread the most: Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets. It’s the classic book on Hollywood in the 1940s, its peak of power, and reads like a mix of U.S. history, movie history, politics, cultural studies, gossip, gritty noir, and high tragedy. And there’s a thousand human stories in there, including snapshots of everyone from Faulkner to Ayn Rand, Raymond Chandler to the Hollywood Ten. It’s very dark yet crackling with energy. Enough to keep me going a long time, with occasional heatstroke."
11. ELISABETH EGAN // AUTHOR OF A WINDOW OPENS
"I’d toss Anna Karenina into my beach bag. I’ll admit, I’ve never actually read this book, but I started it once, thought it seemed promising, and then got distracted by The Secret History by Donna Tartt (seriously, I remember the choice vividly). I think AK would be great company in my new desert island life; plus the chill of Russia would probably be a nice break from my tropical climate, and learning all the characters’ names would help keep me sharp."
12. LEILA SALES // AUTHOR OF MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS
"Is this going to be the last book I ever get to read? Is this book going to need to keep me occupied for however many years/decades I survive on only coconuts and seawater? If yes, then I'd bring a book that's actually all seven Harry Potter books together. If, on the other hand, I'm just looking to entertain myself in the sand for a couple days, then I'd go with To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis."
13. KATHERINE APPLEGATE // AUTHOR OF CRENSHAW
"Full disclosure: I am terribly indecisive, and prone to cheating when I play any version of the desert island game. But since you asked… For tears, laughter, and wisdom, and to remind me what I’ve left behind: The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Second Edition, by William Shakespeare; Dear Life: Stories, by Alice Munro; Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. For a how-to manual on creativity (and just in case I’m craving a nice piece of pie), Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson."
14. ROXANE GAY // AUTHOR OF BAD FEMINIST
"I would take Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence because it is my favorite novel. It has everything you could want in a novel—angst, love, smoldering passions, duty, rich people gossip—wrapped elegantly in the sublime prose of Edith Wharton."
15. ANN M. MARTIN // AUTHOR OF RAIN REIGN
"If I could bring just one book with me to a desert island I would choose To Kill a Mockingbird. It's my favorite book and I've already read it countless times. I would be happy continuing to read it over and over. I particularly love the relationship between Scout and Atticus. If there were a bit of leeway and I could bring two more books with me I would choose Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (for its portrayal of a place and time) and John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany (for its portrayal of one of the most unforgettable characters I've read about)."
16. RAINA TELGEMEIER // AUTHOR OF SISTERS
"Probably my Complete Calvin and Hobbes collection. There’s enough good stuff in there to digest for a lifetime."
17. RAINBOW ROWELL // AUTHOR OF CARRY ON
"I should probably bring something by Dave Duncan because I reread his books more than anyone else's, especially when I need something comforting. I'm going to go with The Gilded Chain."
18. AVA DELLAIRA // AUTHOR OF LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD
"At the moment? I would take The Story of the Lost Child, the final book in Elena Ferrante's Naples series, whose release I am very eagerly awaiting! If I could, I’d take the whole series and reread it all again. In fact, that sounds like a dream vacation. I’d love to get on a plane to a desert island tomorrow and do just that!"
19. MARISSA MEYER // AUTHOR OF THE LUNAR CHRONICLES
"Is it cheating to say the entire Harry Potter series? Because what better escape from a desert island is there than Hogwarts? But if I'm forced to choose only one, then it would be Pride and Prejudice, which I never tire of reading."
20. JAMES PATTERSON // AUTHOR OF THE MURDER HOUSE
"I'd bring an empty book. And a pencil. Honestly, if one was looking to kill time on an island, it takes a bit longer to write one than to read one. And I happen to enjoy the writing as much as the reading. Sometimes even more."