Desert Island Books

5 Apr

The funny thing is that you’re very rarely enough of anything for anyone.

When I write about radical-lady-type-stuff, I’m always too feminist for some people, and not feminist enough for others.

When I get worked about something, I’m always too outspoken for some, and not outspoken enough for others.

When I wrote that post about Easter, I was, according to commenters, either too Christian or else too atheist.

A few commenters even wondered if I was a pantheist, the thought of which sent me scrambling to my bookcase, scanning the shelves until I finally found Ann-Marie McDonald’s Fall On Your Knees.

I flipped to the end of the book, the section that’s an excerpt of Kathleen’s diary, and, after re-reading all of her love scenes with Rose, found the passage I was looking for:

O Diary. My loyal friend. There is love, there is music, there is no limit, there is work, there is the precious sense that this is the hour of grace when all things gather and distil to create the rest of my life. I don’t believe in God, I believe in everything. And I am amazed at how blessed I am.

That’s the kind of paragraph that makes me want to take a long drag on a cigarette, exhale the smoke oh-so-slowly , and mutter, Yes, yes, exactly, yes.

 Fall On Your Knees was my favourite book when I was a teenager. I mean, Jesus, what’s not to love about it? It’s a huge, generation-spanning Canadian epic that takes place in early 20th century Cape Breton (NOVA SCOTIA REPRESENT) and jazz-age New York. The writing is teeth-achingly beautiful, not to mention clever, funny and smart as hell. The characters are brilliant, multi-faceted and all that other good stuff that actual literary-type people say in actual book reviews; in fact, I think that my first ever girl-crush was on Frances Piper.

When I was in university, I had the chance to go see Ann-Marie McDonald give a reading from her latest, The Way The Crow Flies. She was gorgeous and articulate and funny (naturally), and I was totally smitten. Afterwards, I got the chance to meet her and have her sign my copy of Fall On Your Knees. I felt like I was meeting a movie star; my palms were sweaty, my mouth was dry, my chest felt tight. I felt light-headed, and kept having to remind myself to breathe.

When I made it to the head of the line and she asked me my name, I somehow managed to squeak out that her book had really been important to me. I knew that it was going to sound stupid and trite before I even said it, but I didn’t know what else I could say. Here was this person who had strung together the loveliest, smartest, best words possible to create an absolutely perfect story, one that I could disappear into any time that I needed a break from the real world. I wanted to tell her everything that I loved about her book, from why Frances was my favourite character all the way to how her brief mention of Nova Scotia’s Africville had spawned an hour-long conversation with my grandmother about Halifax’s racial landscape.

But how was I supposed to do that with the auditorium lights shining in my face as if I were being questioned for a crime I hadn’t committed? How was I supposed to tell her all this with my clumsy tongue and my woefully inadequate vocabulary?

So I told her that it was important. And she smiled and thanked me and scrawled For Anne, From Ann-Marie McDonald inside the front cover of my book. Afraid that I might embarrass myself, I hurried away, stumbled down the steps, and, while walking home, thought up a million brilliantly witty remarks that I could have made to McDonald if only I’d had the wherewithal.

(Hint: I very rarely have any wherewithal whatsoever)

All of which is to say – oh my dear sweet Jesus I love books so fucking much.

I love reading books, I love buying books, I love writing about books and I love talking about books.

So with that in mind, I asked you guys what your all-time favourite, desert-island books were.

Here’s what you had to say:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

In The Time Of The Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Long Walk by Richard Bachmann/Stephen King

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Oz series by Frank L. Baum

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Claudine series by Colette

Little, Big by John Crowley

The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelho

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

The Devil’s Teardrop by Jeffery Deaver

Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

Wyrm by Mark Fabi

The Refugee Summer by Edward Fenton

Headhunter by Timothy Findley

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Neuromancer by William Gibson

China Court: The Hours Of A Country House by Rumer Godden

Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky by Patrick Hamilton

The Hottest State by Ethan Hawke

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Dune series by Frank Herbert

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

Winter Of Fire by Sherryl Jordan

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

It by Stephen King

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Operating Instructions: A Journal Of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott

Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon

Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie McDonald

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Fool by Christopher Moore

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Apathy And Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll

Popular Music From Vittula by Mikael Niemi

1984 by George Orwell

Down And Out In Paris And London by George Orwell

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

A Catskill Eagle by Robert B. Parker

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman

The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds

Skinny Legs And All by Tom Robbins

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Harry Potter series, specifically The Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

Franny And Zooey by J.D. Salinger

The Cat In The Hat by Dr. Seuss

Love Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

There’s A Girl In My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

To A God Unknown by John Steinbeck

The Log From The Sea Of Cortez by John Steinbeck

The Eagle Of The Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Queen Elizabeth Story by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers

The Making Of A Psychiatrist by David Viscott

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments, and I will add them to the list!

52 Responses to “Desert Island Books”

  1. revellingsjoy April 5, 2013 at 3:34 am #

    Anne Of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

    The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy + The Hobbit Prequel by J. R. R. Tolkein

  2. Douglas Sutherland-Bruce April 5, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    Dear Anne:

    I have only just discovered your blog through a tenuous chain from a post on my Facebook page. I must tell you that, even from thee little I have so far read that I admire your writing immensely and that you have a gift for vivid imagery that astounds me in one so young. You also seem to unerringly put your finger on the crux of any issue or emotion.

    I felt exactly the same way when I got Terry Pratchett to sign one of his books to me, with the addition of the fact that, while I wouldn’t queue for five minuted to see the Second Coming of Christ, I waited in line for four hours to get to him.

    If pushed, my five favourite books, in no particular rode would be: “The Log From The Sea of Cortez” by Joh Steinbeck, “The Wind In The Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, “Miss Pym Disposes” by Josephine Tey, “Night Watch” by Terry Pratchett and “A Catskill Eagle” by Robert B Parker. If you are not familiar with any of them, may I commend them to your notice.

    Please keep writing.



    Dr Douglas Sutherland-Bruce Senior Writer 0418 934 850

    • bellejarblog April 7, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Dear Doug,

      Thank you so much!

      I can only imagine what it must have been like to meet Terry Pratchett – his stuff is amazing! My favourite is Good Omens, which he wrote with Neil Gaiman.

      I’ve added in all of the novels you mentioned.

      Thank you again 🙂


  3. AmazingSusan April 5, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    I’ve read The Alchemist at least six times and everything else by Coelho twice. Vonnegut is also amazing. My second favourite book (after The Alchemist) is Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan – brilliant. However, the most skillfully crafted and well-written book I’ve ever read is Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I note you are Canadian. You must read it. No ifs ands or buts. I also like Illusions by Richard Bach.

    Thanks for putting together a great list 🙂

  4. setinmotion April 5, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    Saving Francesca by the Australian author Melina Marchetta – despite being incredibly flawed, the main character is a girl I continue to fall in love with every time I read it.

  5. Kasey Weird April 5, 2013 at 4:18 am #

    ❤ If I have a favourite book at all (and I'm usually pretty sure I couldn't ever possibly pick just one, but if someone insisted) it’d have to be Fall On Your Knees as well. “Teeth-achingly beautiful” is the perfect phrase, too, so thank you for that.

  6. afluidjourney April 5, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    Oh my god… I love you. The fact that you put up this books list is just… I’m at a loss for words. So many books I have never read! *squee*

  7. Elisha April 5, 2013 at 4:52 am #

    Here’s a strange addition to an already perfect list. I never forget to remember Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. One can read this yet today as an adult and find a way it becomes painfully or delightfully applicable.

    • alicelucie April 5, 2013 at 7:23 am #

      Yes! Where the Wild Things Are is totally moving as an adult!

      • Elisha April 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

        Yay! Thought I was weird for a moment.

  8. Elisha April 5, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    Reblogged this on A Provocative Mind and commented:
    Yes. This is my summer reading list materialized.

  9. Eben April 5, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    Good list. A few so-far-unmentioned favourites:

    The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis
    The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind
    The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
    Our Lady of the Flowers by Genet
    Cocksure by Mordecai Richler
    The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    Baudolino by Umberto Eco
    Blindness by Jose Saramago
    The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
    Valis by PKD
    The Crock of Gold by James Stephens
    Deafening by Frances Itani

  10. it's true April 5, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    I have so many, but here’s a few to Caribbean up your list a little…

    Annie John – Jamaica Kincaid
    A Small Place – Jamaica Kincaid
    The Last Warner Woman – Kei Miller
    Krik? Krak! – Edwidge Danticat
    The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon
    Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
    Good Morning Midnight – Jean Rhys
    Voyage in the Dark – Jean Rhys
    Dancing Lessons – Olive Senior
    Small Island – Andrea Levy
    Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack – Austin Clarke
    The Sly Company of People Who Care – Rahul Bhattacharya

    I could go on, but I’ll stop. I just know that not many people read West Indian lit. But they really, really should.

    • it's true April 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

      I can add more postcolonial lit if you want…I tend to force this stuff on people–but only in the nicest and friendliest of ways. 🙂

    • Ann April 5, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

      Love the work of Kincaid and especially Danticat! Her Breath, Eyes, Memory is stunning.

  11. Constance Williams April 5, 2013 at 5:25 am #

    Orlando by Virginia Woolf

  12. skepticalbystander April 5, 2013 at 5:43 am #

    Oh, I just love how long and eclectic this list is.

  13. icedteaandlemonade April 5, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    This is an amazing list. One of my favorite books is also “Fall on Your Knees.” It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I’m definitely going to go back and read it again soon. Also, just wanted to say that I just started reading this blog and it is quickly becoming my favorite. Thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Andrew Nicoll April 5, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    Thank you for your great kindness in including The Good Mayor. I am touched and honoured.
    Best wishes

  15. alicelucie April 5, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    I absolutely loved this post, and anyone who can get so passionate about books! It’s hard to add any more titles to the fairly comprehensive list, but I adore Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’: I know it’s a bit of a love-it-hate-it kind of book but, unsurprisingly, I LOVE it. Also maybe some James Joyce, like ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’… At least then I’d have the time to actually finish (maybe even understand!) ‘Ulysses’.

  16. Amy Cherie Copeland April 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    What a wonderful reading list! I’ve read many of these and now feel inspired to read more. I recently blogged a list of books that changed my life, and you’ve reminded me I forgot a few of them!

  17. Honore April 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy by Maurice Sendak. I was given this as a child and it was the first book that I felt compelled to smell and trace my fingers over the coordinated cardboard box like paper that was glued to the inside. Reading it as an adult I am able to see the way nothing changes and yet everything changes between the first illustration and the last one. It also might be a tool to help teach your Son about empathy and helping those around you, I know it did incredible things for me.

  18. Jenn April 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I seem to have a thing for trapped women; some of my favorites are Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and House of Mirth. I also love Notes from Underground – Dostoevsky is hilarious!
    Of the more recent books, one that brings me to tears each time I read it is David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary. It’s a short love story in the format of a dictionary, using each letter of the alphabet to tell a snippet of his relationship, in non-chronological order. One of the best things about the novel is that you can’t tell if it’s a heterosexual or homosexual relationship; it just is.
    One of my favorite childhood books is Dear Mili, by Wilheim Grimm and Maurice Sendak. It’s beautiful, and kind of explains why I turned out the way I did.

  19. Clare Thomas April 5, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Thanks for the list! These are some of the books that have stayed with me, regardless of whether I have a copy, or how long it has been since I read them: I seem to have a penchant for romance, in the broadest sense.
    Winnie The Pooh, by A A Milne
    Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf.
    Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield
    The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
    I Capture The Castle, by Dodie Smith
    Possession, by A S Byatt
    August by Judith Rossner
    Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
    The Rules of Engagement, by Catherine Bush
    Bonjour Tristesse, by Francoise Sagan

  20. Louise Rae April 5, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Folly by Laurie King

  21. kirkykoo79 April 5, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    A brilliant list – some old favourites and (even better) some I’ve never heard of. Thank you, if I ever get my printer connected I will print it out and start ticking them off! Can I suggest Frankenstein by Mary Shelley too…?

  22. meg_pirie April 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    Anne, this was so fun to read at the end of the work week. To this I would add Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, and On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

  23. Ann April 5, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    The Color Purple – Alice Walker
    The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Graham
    Little Bee – Chris Cleve
    Kindred – Octavia Butler

  24. Abigail April 5, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    Love the opening to this post — I’ve been feeling the same way lately. Every time I write about feminism, I think, “Oh no! Gonna lose some readers.” And when I write about faith and doubt, I think, “Oh no! There go my feminists…” Blogs are supposed to have a “niche,” or so they say, but MY LIFE doesn’t have a niche, or has too many, so that’s going to overflow into my writing. I feel like I have limbs in all these conflicting worlds; I’m a lactating Quaker feminist academic who spends her minimal free time watching The Bachelor and googling things like, “Do I have a difficult baby?” I guess that’s my niche…?

    • AmazingSusan April 6, 2013 at 1:27 am #

      No one belongs in a box. People are like diamonds – the more facets the better 🙂 Your niche is your authentic self. I just started blogging on WP and think you might like the vid in this post:

      AND, I’ve found it helpful not to think in terms of either/or but rather “both,” and in your case, perhaps “many” :). Good luck. Oh. And you can give up just about everything, but never give up being a feminist 🙂

  25. Stephanie April 6, 2013 at 1:58 am #

    Fall on Your Knees is my favourite book of all time. I buy it for people all the time. I read it every year or so because I love it. I am always nervous that it won’t be as good as I remember, but it always is.

  26. Spectator327 April 6, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    I have to say, Anne, that that paragraph that you love so much doesn’t actually seem to mean anything very much. Lots of nice words stuck together, but that’s all, I’m afraid.

    • ryanfhughes April 6, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      Hey everyone, we’ve got a word scientist here. Did your calculations determine that she was wrong about her feelings and that passage held no meaning for her? How did you get so brilliant. When are you going to write your very interesting book where every sentence makes the same kind of sense to everyone? I think you should start it now. Go from here to somewhere else and get writing. I bet it’ll be real riveting.

      • spectator327 April 7, 2013 at 2:51 am #

        Thank you for your comment

  27. Catherine April 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    The Tortall Books and the Circle of Magic Books by Tamora Pierce. They made me the feminist I am today. I am constantly re-reading them.

  28. Iris Duarte April 6, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    The DoveKeepers by Alice Hoffman

  29. linottemelodieuse April 6, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton

    Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund

    The Irene Adler series by Carole Nelson Douglas

    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

  30. chere hickock April 7, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison

    • mieprowan April 7, 2013 at 4:41 am #

      I wish Dorothy Allison would write more. And Junot Diaz, too.

      • libletters April 14, 2013 at 4:52 am #

        Amen to that. Love Junot Diaz!

  31. mieprowan April 7, 2013 at 4:40 am #

    Thank you for this. I have read many of these and will be keeping this post bookmarked and looking into others of the titles with which I am not familiar. Much appreciated, everyone.

  32. mieprowan April 7, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    Reblogged this on There Are So Many Things Wrong With This and commented:
    Reading list! Plus more in the comments. Yay!

    • Maria April 7, 2013 at 11:13 am #

      I’m a new reader — I can’t remember exactly how I found you. I love the book list! I had to mention one book I especially love: “Harpo Speaks!” by Harpo Marx. It’s all the things a memoir should be, and a good deal funnier than most.

  33. Amy April 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    I just discovered your site recently, and I love it! I love this list. I read ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ every couple of years – it never lets me down. My three sisters and I all adore ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ so much that we frequently text each other quotes from it. And both of Ann-Marie McDonald’s books gutted me. Just turned me inside out.

  34. libletters April 14, 2013 at 4:51 am #

    I finally had a chance to read the full list. I added a few to my ‘to read’ list and smiled at most of the others. If you ever want to blow your mind with something excellent but completely different – Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor was one of the last books that changed my worldview.

  35. Quinn April 15, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    I shall add to this the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake.

    It’s like lollypop. With a jalapeño center. Set on fire and jumper-cabled to Beethovan. Playing Metallica. The only quest you, as a reader have is to get through the first ponderous 30 pages. And then the next thing you know, it’s 16 hours later and you suddenly realize you’ve had to pee for at least half of that. You disappear reading those books. You don’t exist. This world this psychotic englishman has created is the only thing in the universe.

    I used to own a copy of all three (the third book is disappointing but the first two are enough. You can stop at the end of “Gormenghast if you so desire but i don’t recommend it..) I read them to death. There are still pieces here and there around the house that turn up now and then. I have all three on backorder at a place up the street.

  36. Kira May 28, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    I’m surprised Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts didn’t make the list.

  37. Dawn May 29, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    To Kill A Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Cutting for Stone, to name a few.

  38. buchpost May 31, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    What a fantastic list, my suggestions: Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird – Brian Moore: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Leo Tolstoi: Anna Karenina – Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights – The Bible and many, many more.

  39. Fernanda June 3, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    Have you ever read Camus?

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