What is the one novel for you? The one that you would take up, forsaking all others if you had to choose. And why? Tell us.
It’s a toss up between Fight Club and The Pilgrims Progress.
Fight Club because of its hilarity, astute observations of our culture that continue to play out even years after its completion, and its reminder of the dangers of any journey to Nihilism.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is good because, though it has some offensive theology at key junctures in the text, Bunyan wrote the novel from prison and to this day it still functions to aid weary souls to carry on seeking the kingdom of God and his justice. It’s a perfect example of what it means to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ in the body, Bunyan exercised massive creative power while being persecuted for his beliefs, like John on Patmos, the content and source of his book puts it right with Fight Club for a must have, I suppose I’d cast lots.
I’d really like to know what you mean by offensive theology.
To Kill a Mockingbird. It was one of the books that profoundly shaped how I understand integrity, justice and compassion. Oddly, I do not own a copy.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. If I’m going to read fiction I usually read a series of novels (trilogies or longer). But this is perhaps the most enjoyable singular novel I’ve ever read.
East of Eden. Read the first 300 pages in 3 months, the last 300 pages in 3 days. One of the most meaningful, life-filled, gloriously tragic, utterly human stories I’ve ever read, written by a master. With my favorite last page to boot.
(Your phrasing is helpful, too, because to “favorite” I would have said Gilead, or to “most fun” Kavalier & Clay. Good question.)
The Red and the Black by Stendhal. It is the most perfectly paced, perfectly written book (besides Anna Karenina) that I have ever read. It is so psychologically real can see yourself in almost any chapter.
Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa
The depth of insight into human nature through the lens of the reunification of Japan via conquest is stunning, and is like a storied, personable take on Sun Tzu.
Moby-Dick. Because it’s the greatest novel ever written.
1. “The Life of Antony,” to help me man-up for the just-me-and-the-devils ambiance of desert island living, or
2. “Desolation Island,” by Patrick O’Brian, the fifth book in the Aubrey-Maturin series, because it concludes on… you guessed it…. a deserted island.
1984. Because I read it every year or two, and am endlessly fascinated by it. In some dark corner of my mind, I wouldn’t mind waking up one morning in Airstrip One, just to see what things are really like.
Ender’s Game is pretty good too.
I love that Ender’s Game got a mention.
Don Quixote. Because being trapped on an island isn’t absurd enough some times.
Brad E: Excellent choice sir. Ben Myers: I have the feeling that you haven’t actually read Moby Dick yet.
Halden, the comments are off an hour due to noncompliance with daylight savings time. Who do you think you are, Arizona?
My inattentiveness transcends all notion of temporality or geography.
You need to read Moby Dick more slowly, Andy.
I am pretty sure that slowly is the only way one could ever read Moby Dick.
David James Duncan, “The Brothers K”.
I’ll second that.
Moby Dick, the Brothers K, both excellent choices. I think I would go with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. Perhaps The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea. All of my conjured reasons for this choice right now just seem trite. Just damn good.
Second the desert island with Old Man and the Sea…
Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. On an island? Proust would keep my libido tame and my mind active. He would make me feel okay being alone like that.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
No, not really.
Moby Dick, because it’s beautiful from the top down. Or Great Expectations, because it’s beautiful from the bottom up.
Zen is not a novel…
Right. It’s rather closer to a piece of shit.
whoah…do you sympathize with Pirsig’s travelling buddy?
I kind of hated him the first time around in college. I grew to at least appreciate him in the decades that followed.
Zen, to put it delicately, is bullshit.
Yeah…I get the hatred. He shamed me into thinking I was l an idiot and a louse because I didn’t know the difference between a wrench and a pliers. But he was insane (and depressed…)
The River Why.
It is simply gorgeous.
I’d probably pick In Search of Lost Time, mostly because I want to read it and I would probably have ample time to do so on an island.
The Complete Stories: Flannery O’Connor……or Annie DIllard’s Holy the Firm. If it’s a wooded island the latter for sure. Although more content would probably be better in this case. So let’s make it Flannery.
Okay, O’Connor’s not a novel. But it includes multiple novels. Cheating?
Meh. I don’t have strict rules.
This will seem so cliche, but probably “Brideshead Revisited.” If cliches aren’t allowed on the island, I’ll take Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel.”
The Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy. Not my favorite novel(s), but near the top of the list and has already been read 3 times or so.
A Practical Guide to Ship Building. ‘Nuff said.
okay Chesterton…really though, we aren’t on the island.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre (really, all three novels of the Smiley trilogy)-or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Maybe not the deepest novels–but they’re crisply written, display Le Carre’s shrewd observation of human nature, and are bracingly bleak. Perfect for a desert island.
Moby-Dick is massively overrated and probably second only to Joyce’s Ulysses as far as ‘shitty novels that academics love’ are concerned (Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow being a close third, only because it doesn’t get mentioned as much).
(Ben, maybe you read an abridged version of Moby-Dick?)
As for as picking one work, I have no idea how to decide. I’m tempted to go with Sienkiewicz’s Polish Trilogy because it’s massive and entertaining and would help take my mind off the fact that I would be lonely and hungry and covered in bug bites. I’m also tempted to go with something by Dostoevsky, although I feel that people might be avoiding him in this thread because he’s such an obvious choice (the challenge, for us academic bloggers, is to pick something more surprising and obscure, right? This way we can be impressed with one another!). Today, however, I think I would take Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.
Dan, I agree that there is a pressure to offer some work that’s slightly obscure and novel as one’s favorite. However, how do you get off saying Moby Dick is overrated? I mean based on what? The fact that you didn’t like it. Others did. I feel as if you’re being an ass for the sake of being an ass.
Just having a bit of fun with Ben (we’ve had multiple exchanges over the years and even broke bread together not that long ago, so I trust he knows where I’m coming from). And, yes, I didn’t particularly enjoy Moby-Dick. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot of good stuff in it and the potential to be great… but the long-ass technical tangents about things like knots and sails sort of took away from the story (and bored the hell out of me, unlike a number of the interesting long-ass technical tangent’s in Hugo’s Les Miserables). That’s why I made a comment about reading an abridged version. You could cut those large chunks out of the story and pretty much nothing would be lost (except the ‘pleasure’ of wondering when Melville was going to get back to the story at hand). Hence, ‘overrated’ seems like an appropriate term to use for this.
As for being an ass, you do see how I’m making fun of myself in the comment, right? I’m the worst offender in this thread. First I mention three notorious authors (Melville, Joyce, Pynchon) and make it known that I’ve read them, then I bust out a fairly obscure author (how many people do you know who can name the three titles in Sienkiewicz’s trilogy?), then I take a dig at Dostoevsky (while making it look like I’m digging at others and am, therefore, above that sort of thing), and finally I conclude by mentioning a book that has not yet appeared on the list (because if you want to garner respect, you best come up with something others haven’t mentioned!).
I mean, this is a thread about taking a book to a desert island… it’s okay to chill out a little and have some fun on this one.
You’re wrong about those long-ass technical tangents. They are absolutely necessary to the story (and are beautifully written too). Moby Dick is not a parable about a megalomanical man and a really big obsession. It’s about a megalomanical ship’s captain and a whale. The closest analogy I think is to the Lord of the Rings. So what Melville does is he creates an entire world so he can make his characters understandable. In creating this world, it is absolutely necessary we are educated about this world.
The reason why its probably one of the greatest novels ever written is because this world is much more believable than any real world anyone encounters. Its art as mimesis, which turns the real world into a mimesis of art.
I was waiting for that.
Another vote for Melville’s “clam chowder”: evil and malice inscrutrable, yet “the truth … simple” (Auden) – and an unsurpassable anatomy of the black heart of America.
It’s a toss up between The Lord of the Rings or Austen’s Persuasion. Lord of the Rings because it is everything a mythology should be – disorganised, weird, inconsistent and enchanting; and Persuasion because it is my favourite Austen novel, full of pathos, humour, wit and humanity.
It would have to be something very long and rewarding with repeated readings. And something I never finished. That would have to be War and Peace, a 1200-page book of which I once read 1,000 pages….and stopped.
The first time I read the passage where Prince Andrei meets Napoleon, I looked up from the book and realized, “Ah, this is why this is considered one of the best books ever!”
I am afraid that my criticism of Moby Dick has made it the hippest bandwagon to jump on. Thank you, dan, for backing me up a bit. I am not saying that Moby Dick is bad at all, I think that it is a very good book. The claim, however, that it is the greatest novel ever written is completely indefensible. You either need to read more novels or stop claiming a book is the greatest because you feel unique for having slogged through the unabridged version and it ups your supposed reputation to choose a depressingly futile saga of fuck the world chic.
Also, though I flirt with another deluge of antithetical desert island literary choices, I must give warning to Paul. I recently read War and Peace and it is not worth it. It’s good, but I would argue that it doesn’t actually reach greatness and I will gladly punch anybody in the face any person who claims that it is the greatest novel ever written. That being said, the last 95 pages or so (starting a few chapters into the afterword) are totally fantastic and is the only part of the book I will ever recommend to anybody.
I agree about War and Peace — I came to that book with pretty high expectations… most of which were disappointed. Sure, writing it and reading it are both notable accomplishments but that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing ever. However, I could understand if people wanted to choose Anna Karenina — that is a damn good book.
I read the first page of War and Peace and said, “There is no fucking way I’m doing that 900 more times.” Put the book down, never touched it again.
It’s absurd to say that Moby is a saga of “fuck the world chic.” Who feels unique by “slogging” through it? Most people read this in high school, and when they’re done, they say ‘thank God, I’m never gonna have to read that again!”
And how the hell can you say War and Peace isn’t worth it? It is the most perfectly written book there is (besides Anna Karenina), although it’s not the greatest story (and probably isn’t the “greatest novel of all time” – although it’s pretty stupid to categorize one novel as the greatest). But every single sentence is perfect, the rhythm and pace is perfect, and the world that is created by the author is completely believable. I’m not sure what other criteria you can give to a great novel. Clearly, Don Quixote and Jude the Obscure rival Tolstoy, but I don’t think either (although maybe Don Quixote) match him.
The high school rejection of Moby Dick is one of the very things that allows the book to become fuck the world chic. The claim that Moby Dick is the greatest novel ever written is a popular stance to take because one can claim literary superiority and maturity through a rejection of the childish frustration of the unread masses who were forced to read Melville’s beast and resent it. I think of it as the literary version of the re-popularization of the mullet.
As for War and Peace, it is the easiest thing in the world for me to say that it isn’t worth it because I wholeheartedly believe it (it is also my opinion that U2 sucks and if this helps you decide that any opinion I hold is utterly invalid then I am glad to have helped). Quite frankly, I am still bitter at that tome for having wasted my time. War and Peace is well written and I really wanted to love it but I neither loved nor hated any character to any degree of importance. It was somewhat interesting but at 1500 pages it became such a chore that finishing it was only a masturbatory act that allowed me to pat myself on the back and claim literary superiority for having finished it. Ultimately I guess you could say that I appreciated his skill but could not muster enough appreciation for the content and characterization to feel like it belonged to the class of literature called “great”.
I completely agree with you on the idiocy of claiming any novel to be “the greatest novel of all time” but I must thank you for the shout out for my personal favorite of Don Quixote. As for perfectly written, I would recommend giving Les Miserables a chance; the copy I have is the same length as my copy of War and Peace (though W&P has a smaller font) and it is amazingly better and more complete than W&P.
Well Andrew, I completely agree about U2, but as for Moby Dick, I’ll grant sometimes there is some chic involved with elitist “literature.” But Melville wrote this as a serial novel and for me, I had these memories of hating it with a passion when I was young, and then when I was about 24 or so, after a good friend died at 22 (and so I was thinking about death a bit), it finally hit me that it was pure genius. I remember relishing every single tangent about whale migrations, how to tie a sheep’s bend, or how to cut up and melt down oil (which is almost like a pure metaphor for how humans love to exploit one another), and then falling back into a story that really should be considered sci-fi (a whale and a man?). Anyway, all this and my desert island book is Stendhal!
I was talking with Halden last night and I admitted to him that though my first reaction to the claim that Moby Dick was the greatest novel ever written was umbrage due to the fact that that is silly claim for any book 99% of the time, my second reaction was a realization that I was a kid when I read Moby Dick the first time and I really need to revisit it. Even if I end up loving the hell out of it, I will still express my doubts about giving it the title of the greatest novel ever written as that implies a universal standard which does not exist.
Don Quixote? Really? I am perfectly willing to admit the importance of the book for creating satire as a genre of literature, etc. but wasn’t able to pull any enjoyment from that book at all. To some extent, this is due to the context of being a modern reader. All of the events in the book have become such common tropes, there was no chance for me to be surprised by anything. “Oh, look, he’s going to go fight some windmills,” and then I slog through 40 laborious pages to get to the punch line I already know is coming. I got about a quarter of the way through and gave up.
I did love Les Miserables, though. Not the greatest book I’ve ever read, IMHO, but in my top 10. Its probably the only phone-book dimensioned novel I’ve attempted and found enjoyable. The worst ever: Bleak House. I had to read it for 12th grade AP Lit, which mostly I did, but stopped reading one chapter before the end in protest.
I loved Crime and Punishment once I had finished reading it, at least in terms of the story, characters, themes, etc., but found it (and Russian Lit in general) excruciating to actually read. The pedantic word play drives me to fits. (Example: early in Notes from the Underground there is a paragraph composed of the same sentence over and over, each time with one tiny difference to subtly change the meaning. Repeat 8 or 10 times. Clever, but annoying as hell to read.)
Yeah. Gotta love Dostoevsky, but the language g a p is big.
Les Mis is a powerful story
Harry Potter…hehm…kidding, don’t throw anything at me.
My pick would by Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.
Beavis: Heh heh Harry Potter. He he heh
The Brothers Karamazov would still be my choice, despite a deep desire to impress with something written by a transgender Papuan spider farmer who lives in a soon-to-be cool part of Queens.
I think the only book longer than about 100 pages I’ve read more than once is the bible, though I might reread Dune sometime soon. But my favorite novel is Red Sorghum by Mo Yan. I’ll definitely reread it again some day.
Underworld, DeLillo. It’s long, and it would help me remember all the things that I’ve lost by living on the island. And in many ways the book is about already losing/having lost them. Plus, I see myself in the protagonist.
Brave New World
It’s just about a three way tie between Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, (a little suprised Ondaatje hasn’t been mentioned) and Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Overall though Anna Karenina wins out. I choose these books because I find myself opening them time and time again both as supplements to other non-literary works as well as to simply revel in their own greatness.
Vonnegut – Timequake
I’d take Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. If I had two I think I’d take A Prayer for Owen Meany.
“The Tartar Steppe”, Dino Buzatti
Reading War and Peace at the moment so I’d have to take it with me. Also it’s heavy enough to use for an all-body workout when I’m really bored!
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