Image: Off Mt. Desert Island by Fitz Henry Lane, 1856 [Public Domain] via Brooklyn Museum
We might think of summer, with its long days and children out of school, as prime reading season. But October’s longer nights and chilly mornings signal the kick-off for months of reading. After all, what is cozier on a cold day than curling up with a good book? Inspired by New York Times Style Magazine‘s and One Grand‘s recent series “My 10 Favorite Books,” we’ve challenged ourselves to name our own 10 “Desert Island” picks. This week, Operations Coordinator Capria Jaussen shares hers.
I was thrilled when Cecily asked me to write a blog post on my top 10 Desert Island Books. I’ve thought about this before, and, although the list has changed dramatically over the years, the exercise of noting the books that are currently meaningful to me has always been pleasurable. My top 5 choices were easy; I’ve been carrying these books with me throughout my life. But the next tier seemed more nebulous. I kept exchanging one book for another as I worked to hone the bottom 5 on my list. In the end, I had to come up with some criteria to help me judge which ones would make the cut:
First, does it bear multiple readings? Not all books, no matter how great their impact, are a pleasure to re-read. And if I am stuck on a desert island I am sure to be reading these books over and over and over. . .
Secondly, does the book have characters I can relate to? Obviously, I don’t have to like ALL the characters. But if I am alone with only the ocean for company, these characters are going to become my only friends.
Lastly, does the book tell a good story? Does the story illuminate some larger truth about the human story? No matter what corner of the globe (or universe) I am stuck in, I never want to lose my connection to the mess and magic that makes me human.
So, without further ado, here are my picks.
- Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
This book is a sweeping, almost prophetic story of love, loss, heroes and villains. With magical realism, interesting characters and New York City as the backdrop, this is one incredible novel.
- The Bible (no particular translation)
You can’t outrank this book in terms of stories that reveal a larger truth about the human story.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
One of my all time favorite books about an orphan-turned-governess who always wants more from life, but must contend with her own sense of duty (as well as the secrets of those she cares for most).
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
In a series of reflections on life to be given to his young son after his death, a Congregationalist minister weaves the beauty of storytelling with stark truth telling. It is a poignant book about forgiveness and the hope all parents feel for their children.
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck
This is a multi-generational tale of two families that strongly resembles a re-telling of the Book of Genesis from the Bible, with the same disastrous consequences. Steinbeck’s prose is at its best here and he creates engaging characters that are easy to both love and hate.
- The Captain’s Verses by Pablo Neruda
This edition has the original Spanish on the left side of the page and the English translation (by Donald D. Walsh) on the right side, making it a wonderful collection of poems from a master poet. Using simple and tactile language, Neruda manages to convey all the force, delight and agony of love.
- A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
A short but meaningful book about family dynamics and how we never know how to help the ones we love most. It has beautiful descriptions of the western Montana landscape where I grew up, making this book very special to me.
- The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
In this Pulitzer Prize winning novel the narrator, a retired historian, tries to tell the story of his grandparents’ wooing and life together as they migrated westward in the late 1800s. Like all attempts to unearth the past, he ends up learning more about himself than anticipated in this uniquely American family story.
- Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
In this first book of Lewis’s lesser-known Space Trilogy, Dr. Ransom is kidnapped and taken to the red planet of Malacandra. As a long time fan of science fiction novels, I find this narrative exploration of a foreign land endlessly fascinating.