From time to time we Quills pose a question designed to get people thinking. Then each of us responds to the query, revealing a bit of ourselves along the way. For this post, here is our question:
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island for an undetermined period of time, what three books would you want to have with you?
I am curious to see what P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, has for us. Take it away, Parker!
I have a wonderful life. I'm surrounded, tackled, and set upon by four wonderful kiddos, loved by a beautiful wife, and I have several vocations I truly enjoy. I write, I teach, and I work in real estate. I get to be a part of restoring old buildings in a small yet interesting and thriving community.
All that said, getting stranded on a distant island sometimes sounds like a holiday. I wonder how long I would procrastinate starting a signal fire ...
Next is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. Robin always has great things in store for us. Let's see what three books she chose ...
I’m cold. A desert island sounds good right now with its sandy beaches, rolling waves, peace and quiet… I put in a request for palm trees and other vegetation, too. Birds. No snakes. A hammock. One terrific thunderstorm. And chocolate, of course. Would it be cheating if I brought my e-reader and a solar charger? It only takes up the space of one book, right?
Choosing a mere three books is serious business. I think I’ll go with something old, something new, and…
Finally, it's my turn!
Here goes ...
Before I fully answer this question, I admit that I’m going to cheat juuuuuussssst a little bit. You see, I think that others might expect that I should respond to this question by listing first, the book of authority for my faith. That is, I think others might think that the first item on my list should be the Christian Bible. I acknowledge that the Bible is full of stories that are entertaining, enlightening, encouraging and faith-building. The words of the Bible, through stories, songs, and poems, can lift someone out from dark times while teaching untold numbers of life lessons. Its words seem new every time you read them. So it seems natural that it would be my first choice. So natural in fact, that I’m not going to list it with my three choices. Rather, I’ll expect to find a copy of it in the hotel room top drawer of wherever I end up staying on the desert island in question. What?! No one said the island to which I’ll be stranded had always been deserted, only that it’s deserted when I’m left there. So I’ve chosen to have faith that the island will have been inhabited at one time prior to my arrival, and that someone will have left behind, a copy of the Good Book for me to find there. (That was tricky of me, don’t you think?) And so, now that I’ve handled that, my three choices follow.
My first choice is a copy of Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, which after twenty years in the making, was first published in 1862. I choose this work primarily because of the unmatched beauty of Hugo’s prose, and because this is a beautiful story of personal sacrifice.
The 1000 pages or so of Les Miserables are filled with personalities and descriptions that pull in the past, thread in the present, and foreshadow the future. Altogether it reads like poetry, as follows:
Towards the end of this fourth year Jean Valjean’s turn to escape arrived. His comrades assisted him, as is the custom in that sad place. He escaped. He wandered for two days in the fields at liberty, if being at liberty is to be hunted, to turn the head every instant, to quake at the slightest noise, to be afraid of everything—of a smoking roof, of a passing man, of a barking dog, of a galloping horse, of a striking clock, of the day because one can see, of the night because one cannot see, of the highway, of the path, of a bush, of sleep. On the evening of the second day, he was captured.
Les Miserables tells of the cost to self, to others, and to society, that comes with judgment and a desire for retribution lasting far beyond the damage a wrongdoer has caused, and well beyond the period allotted for incarcerating someone as payment for his crime. It is a story of the power of forgiveness and of the power of love in the form of long suffering personal sacrifice. This is not the noun, love, to which I refer. That is, I refer not to the love that is a feeling. I refer, rather, to the verb, love. I refer to the love that does—that acts. I refer to acting for the benefit of others, even when that act comes at a great cost to oneself.
If you have not read Les Miserables, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you are not generally a reader of classics and find the challenge a bit daunting, give yourself permission to skip the parts that don’t speak to you or that are hard to follow. For example, skip over the complicated historical and political issues if you like. Concentrate on the people, and on Hugo’s spellbinding descriptions of their past and present lives. If you rise to the challenge, I am confident you will not regret it.
My second choice would probably be a Charles Dickens novel. The reason I include him on this list is because, while I’m on that desert island, I will probably need a good laugh from time to time, and for me, Dickens is hysterically funny.
While it’s hard to pick just one great Dickens work, perhaps there is nowhere he is more amusing than in the opening pages of Great Expectations, first published in 1861. I know. I know. It is intended to be a serious work—and it is, and the opening sets the stage for all the seriousness to come. Still, there is also great humor to be found there.
Once, years ago, when my two youngest were about eight and ten or so, I started reading Great Expectations out loud to them. (I love to read out loud and I do so with a great deal of, shall we say . . . flair, or perhaps, drama would be the correct word here.) Through the first chapter or so, as I read (and this was not my first reading of this work!), I laughed so hard that tears rolled down my face and my stomach hurt. Yes, I know that the story opens with poor Pip staring at his parents’ tombstones. But consider the way Dickens sets forth those facts from Pip’s point of view. Not only do we see with the eyes of a naïve child (who has nevertheless already suffered greatly), but the images we see are, in a word, hilarious. Sad—and hilarious. For example, consider Pip’s contemplation of his father’s tombstone:
… the shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.
Funny stuff. Right?
Then of his brothers, Pip thinks:
To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine - who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle …
Imagine one the age of young Pip already concerned about making a living … Yes, this passage is sad because in that day, making a living was such a struggle. Even little ones felt it. But there is also something humorously intriguing about the way Pip ponders those things.
Then, there is Dickens' masterful way of summing up the entirety of a person or thing through a few short words. Try the following. Keep the flow going so that the first two sentences move at a normal, almost slow, pace, while from there, it gradually moves more quickly, quickly, quickly, then ends with the last clause slowly ... Ready? Read:
A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.
Not laughing yet? Then, I’m sorry to say, I really don’t think there’s anything I can do for you!
Finally, I would choose one book for the sheer pleasure of its power to help me to “get away.” Specifically, I would choose Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule. Then, whenever I needed to escape (assuming that being stranded on a desert island wouldn’t be enough of an escape for me), I could journey through its pages once more…
How about you? What books would you take? Oh please, do share!