Lists

Deserted (“Desert”) Island Books

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Short answer: if you want to know people’s favourite books DON’T ask “what would you take on an island” because you’ll get survival answers, raft answers, long books one would like to read but hasn’t, and nostalgia for physical editions which have a sentimental value attached to them.

Long answer and personal choices:

I’ve always had issues with the question of “desert island” books (which should be deserted but let’s let that slide). Sometimes people rephrase it as “if there was a fire, which books would you save?” which is an entirely different question. What people want to know when they ask it is: what are your favourite books? Sometimes one is forced to narrow it down to five. I think, this question should be rephrased to “list your five favourite books up to this point in your life based on content and nostalgia.” There will be some books that you genuinely thought were brilliant as an adult and enjoyed the experience of reading them, and some have amazing memories attached to them like: “when mom read ‘x’ to me on our vacation in ‘y.’” The ‘up to this point’ part leaves room for you to know that the list could change and grow as you change and grow. So let’s break it down.

Now, the ISLAND question. First of all, ‘characters isolated on an island’ is my favourite theme, so if I would answer honestly, people would think I just got ‘inspired’ by the question. If you check out my favourites page you’ll many isolated characters on an island. The island implies a few things and depending on how you see it, it influences your answer. The three things implied are:

  1. You have all the time in the world to yourself
  2. You are completely alone and socially isolated
  3. You might need to survive and/or escape

These are three separate questions which are added to the ‘deserted island question.’ Some people give the smartass answer: “I’d bring How to Build a Raft.” Really? You have no idea how far away you are from any land, you hardly have access to drinkable water (no way you can carry enough with you) and if you don’t know how to build a raft, how do you expect to navigate? Seriously, everyone should know how to build a raft by now, it’s 2017. So the ‘Fire’ and ‘Island’ questions are actually four separate questions. Here’s how I would answer them:

Which books would you save from the fire?

This question is actually more about the physical book because you’re not saving the story. In a case of actual fire, if you had to save five books, most people would save:

  • Rare editions
  • Books with sentimental value (book you have from childhood, book grandma gave you with her inscription on it, book signed by your favourite author)

What you actually save from the fire, isn’t the STORY or plot line, you are saving the physical object and the additional attachments, which sometimes, may have nothing to do with the story. So please don’t ask the fire question unless you want to know what rare editions and special physical books someone has in their home.

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My Answer for This Question:

  • My 1777, 3rd English translation of Plutarch’s Lives, translated by Thomas North. I found it at a flea market in Oxford when studying there. I have fond memories of the time I found it, it was only £10 and it’s a beautiful copy of a wonderful text. Just think that the first edition (1579) of this book was the source and foundation for Shakespeare when writing his classical-based plays.
  • My Annotated Brothers Grimm with an inscription on the cover from Maria Tatar (the annotator). She is one of my favourite academics and I had the chance to meet her once and have lunch with her. She sent me this book as a gift a month later. The inscription says “here’s to magic.”
  • My 1910 copy of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. This book was hard to find, and I love it so much, and it’s a rare edition.
  • My Romanian edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. When I was seven years old, St. Nicholas (on Dec 6 he leaves presents in your shoes) gave me that book and I cherished it for many years. It’s the only book I brought with me when I moved to Canada.
  • Lord of the Rings (Deluxe Editions). One of my favourite teachers from high school gave me this book. It’s so beautiful, irreplaceable, and from someone I really respected.

The THREE Island Sub-Questions

FOR SURVIVAL

579309Here I would ideally have books like: which plants are poisonous, herb books, natural remedies, how to navigate in nature, which fruits/vegetables are edible, how to preserve foods for long periods of time. I would also be more concerned with building a tree house, rather than trying to get away.8152608

Also…Island-Specific Mental Survival! I would take with me The Ultimate Lost and Philosophy. It would give me a guideline, and a higher purpose/hope whilst being there, and it would remind me of one of my favourite shows. It would strengthen my relationship with the island.

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

This aspect of the Island question which some people answer with, implies that you FINALLY have time to read books that you didn’t get a chance to yet, but definitely want to read. Given all the time and freedom, you’ll finally do it. Here’s the problem: HOW do you know you will like them? What if you bring with you Infinite Jest, Middlemarch, and War and Peace….and then find out that you don’t like any of them all that much, and realize: they’re now going to be with you on the island forever and you don’t even like them! Also, even if you were to ‘study’ it for a purpose like writing a great academic paper, or showing off to your friends—well, there’s no chance you can get OFF the island ever. So you have to choose the ones that you love alone, so you must be honest with yourself. Here are some books that are really long and it’s something I wanted to get to but I’m scared of starting because they are way too long of a commitment:

  • In Search of Lost Time – Marcel Proust
  • The Wheel of Time Omnibus – Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson). I am not sure if an omnibus exists yet, I’m just trying to incorporate a series into one.
  • The Gormenghast Trilogy – Mervyn Peake
  • The Complete Arabian Nights (I’ve read individual stories but never the complete)
  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Again, there is no guarantee I would absolutely love any of these, but they are long works I would get to if I was focused, alone, and had a lot of time.

FAVOURITE NOVELS (Good Company)

The bottom line, the question based on content, and story, with a mix of nostalgia. What would I bring? Most fairy tales and children’s lit, as well as Lord of the Rings, are so deeply ingrained in my mind that I don’t think it would need to be ‘read’ or ‘reread’ on the island alone. I could probably write them from memory. But here is my squad:

  • The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Necronomicon by H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This is the company I’d like to keep, I mean, obviously it doesn’t cover poetry, and all the others, but if I really had to narrow it down to five people’s works that I absolutely love, and would enjoy reading and rereading on an island alone…I think these would be the ones. Again, it’s subject to change as I go on.

Ultimately my point is, that asking someone “What books would you take on a ‘desert’ island” or “which books you’d save from the fire” have different implications, and different answers.  So if you want to know people’s favourite questions DON’T ask that because you’ll get survival answers, raft answers, long books I’d like to read answers, and nostalgia for physical editions which have a sentimental value attached to them.

Cheek by Jowl by Ursula K. Le Guin

“I have been asking for thirty years why most critics are afraid of dragons while most children, and many adults, are not”

“fantasy is not primitive, but primary”

6380284This book contains a series of essays on fantasy by Le Guin written in a highly assertive and critical tone. I think I will re-read this every year because it’s a little manifesto worth memorizing. The dominant essay in this collection is the central one (also the longest) focusing on animals in children’s literature and fantasy.

Le Guin begins the series of essays in debunking three stereotypes attached to fantasy like: (1) the characters are white (2) it’s a fantasy land in the middle ages (3) fantasy by definition concerns a battle between Good and Evil. She explores the reasons why some children’s literature is often in a pre-industrial setting, and how fairy tale retellings don’t necessarily mean changing the story, rather, poaching at it and getting into it.

“it interests me that most of these ‘lifelong’ children’s books are fantasies: books in which magic works, or animals speak, or the laws of physics yield to the laws of the human psyche.”

Le Guin questions what the making of fantasy really entails. For instance, a woman may turn into a troll in fantasy, but what does it really mean for a woman to turn into a troll? She compares it to “realist” literature like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Could one say that she has morphed into something monstrous?

Le Guin then turns her attention to the fantastic elements in other novels we consider great ‘realist’ and ‘serious’ literature like Moby Dick.

“The fantasy element of Moby Dick is Moby Dick. To include an animal as a protagonist equal with the human is—in modern terms—to write a fantasy. To include anything on equal footing with the human, as equal in importance, is to abandon realism…Melville’s white whale isn’t a real whale, he’s a beast of the imagination, like dragons or unicorns; hence Moby Dick is not an animal story, but it is a fantasy.”

In the main essay focusing on animals Le Guin examines how we used to be around animals in our earlier stages and what fantasy tries to capture:

“Animals were once more to us than meat, pests, or pets: they were fellow-creatures, colleagues, dangerous equals. We might eat them; but then, they might eat us. That is at least part of the truth of my dragons. They remind us that the human is not the universal.”

“As hunter-gatherers, our relationship to the animals was not one of using, caretaking, ownership. We were among, not above. We are a like in the food chain…each is at the service of the other. Interdependent. A community. Cheek by jowl.”

In literature we find interdependence between animals and nature, coexisting with humans in the same spaces. Lucretius’s poem On the Nature of Things shows us, Le Guin emphasizes, that “Lucretius saw no barrier between man and the rest of creation.” As we distanced ourselves from nature an animals with cities, and passed the industrial period, we separated ourselves from other species “to assert difference and dominance.”

Le Guin spends the rest of the book showing us the many ways in which fantasy as genre, found often in Children’s Literature brings us back to this imagined past where animals are integrated in society as equals. She examines Bambi, The Jungle Book, The Wind in the Willows, among many others and discusses how these points reinforce her thesis, and why they have been so successful. Le Guin uses some of her own stories and shows how she has tried to capture certain things and for what purpose.

Lastly, a part of this book that stayed with me, is Le Guin’s reaction to the Harry Potter phenomenon. Granted, this collection came out the same year as The Deathly Hallows, and didn’t examine in detail the overall effect and its subsequent ‘merchendise, Potter-world, Fantastic Beasts, and  Jack Thorne’s Cursed Child‘ but Le Guin has a bone to pick with the critics who had for years shunned fantasy and all of a sudden went along with the main crowd. Le Guin writes that she finds it normal for the public to fall in love with Rowling’s fantasy because they found something they missed out on since childhood, but she says:

“How could so many reviewers and literary critics know so little about a major field of fiction, have so little background, so few standards of comparison, that they believed a book that was typical of a tradition, indeed quite conventional, even derivative, to be a unique achievement?”

Le Guin blames the modernists, realists, and curriculum builders as well as the Edmund Wilson and his generation who labelled ‘realism’ and its various forms as the only kind of ‘serious’ literature. I love her criticism, brutal honesty, and analysis. All Cheek by Jowl has made me want to do is to read her all her essay collections and all her Science Fiction and Fantasy which is all now on my immediate TBR.

This book is one really well-written argument. The whole time I was highlighting and thinking of all the professors to whom I would like to send a copy. I think this book is perfect in how it’s written and how it delivers its argument. I was trying to think of a retort and couldn’t because her argument was that well done. Even in parts that I felt differently towards going in, I found myself converted by the end. Everyone should read this book.

Arthur C. Clarke Winners | Reading List

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Seeing as there are not that many books which have won the Arthur C. Clarke Award I would like to take on this project and try to read all the winners. I created a Downloadable PDF as well with this entire list below in case you want to print it and complete the challenge in the near future. The “check” option can be used for taking them out of the library, buying them, or reading them (it’s up to you). I linked every novel to the Goodreads option if you would like to read more into each individual book or add it to your reading lists.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is the most prestigious award in Britain for Science Fiction. According to their website: “The annual award is given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year.” This is my little mini-project but all are welcome to do it! I just created the resource pdf to make it a bit easier. There are people WAY more skilled than me at discussing this award. I strongly recommend (my personal favourite booktuber) Kalanadi. <–  there’s no way I could keep up with her, and her reviews are phenomenal.

Check Year Novel Author
2017 The Underground Railroad  Colson Whitehead
X 2016 Children of Time Adrian Tchaikovsky
X 2015 Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel
X 2014 Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie
2013 Dark Eden Chris Beckett
2012 The Testament of Jessie Lamb Jane Rogers
2011 Zoo City Lauren Beukes
2010 The City & The City China Miéville
2009 Song of Time Ian R. MacLeod
2008 Black Man Richard Morgan
2007 Nova Swing M. John Harrison
2006 Air Geoff Ryman
2005 Iron Council China Miéville
2004 Quicksilver Neal Stephenson
2003 The Separation Christopher Priest
2002 Bold As Love Gwyneth Jones
2001 Perdido Street Station China Miéville
2000 Distraction Bruce Sterling
1999 Dreaming in Smoke Tricia Sullivan
1998 The Sparrow Mary Doria Russell
1997 The Calcutta Chromosome Amitav Ghosh
1996 Fairyland Paul J. McAuley
1995 Fools Pat Cadigan
1994 Vurt Jeff Noon
1993 Body of Glass Marge Piercy
1992 Synners Pat Cadigan
1991 Take Back Plenty Colin Greenland
1990 The Child Garden Geoff Ryman
1989 Unquenchable Fire Rachel Pollack
1988 The Sea and Summer George Turner
1987 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood