Top Ten Tuesday: Books For A Desert Island

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week, we’re picking books to take to a desert island. Conveniently, I started thinking bout this back in May…

There’s a long-standing British radio show that invites celebrities to pick the eight musical tracks, one book and a luxury item they’d want with them if they were stranded on a desert island. For Wyrd And Wonder, I gave this a fantasy bookish twist and agonised until I had a list of eight books, a podcast and some tea. So this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt would be easy, I thought. I can just add two more favourites into my pile.

…and then I realised I didn’t have to stick to just the one genre, and lost half the afternoon coming up with a whole new list. Because of course I did. My original strategy of comforting rereads and stand-alones from my TBR still felt sound, but with my whole bookshelf to choose from the results are rather different – not least because at the last minute I pivoted away from stand-alones in favour of series I’m dying to finish. Which makes for terrible reread potential, but at least I’ll know how they end.

If I’m honest though, almost any book on my shelf could make the cut for the TBR slots. I’ve already read the books I was gasping to get to this year (well, except Leviathan Falls, but it isn’t out until mid-November so that feels like too far out to cheekily include) and I’d gladly read anything that I already have. After all, I haven’t yet read The Galaxy and the Ground Within (and Chambers always rereads well) or Winter’s Orbit; I’m yet to get to Black Sun or Sistersong. I’ve been intending to read The Golem and the Djinni for so long it’s acquired a sequel. The list is not quite endless, but an awful lot longer than 10 (let alone 4) and certainly long enough to take me several years if I could take them all. So in the interests of making a choice? I’ll complete some series I enjoy.

Let’s start with the books I think I could reread for months…

The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien: this is a lifelong companion that I haven’t reread in years, but I’d like to. A desert island sounds like the perfect excuse and my one-volume collected edition of the trilogy means it only takes one slot, right? Right. Plus I get to goggle at Alan Lee’s gorgeous artwork AND have an impressive blunt object to defend myself against bugs and other assailants.

Book cover: The Lord of the Rings - J R R Tolkien (Alan Lee illustrated anniversary edition - Frodo, Sam and Gollum before the Black Gates)
Book cover: The Books of Earthsea - Ursula K Le Guin, illustrated by Charles Vess

The Books of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin: another life-long favourite, but one that I tend to revisit every few years because there’s always more to discover between its pages. I usually focus on the first two books, so this would be a chance to get to know the later books better (and I’ll happily splash out on the new collected edition illustrated by Charles Vess).

The Witness for the Dead – Katherine Addison: I’ve read this since May, but it’s staying on the list as a reread choice (having previously been a TBR item) – just like The Goblin Emperor, this tale of compassion, duty and restraint is a delight and a comfort, that will bear many repeat visits. Thara Celehar is so very self-contained, he seems the perfect companion for self-isolation.

Book cover: The Witness for the Dead - Katherine Addison
Book cover: The Secret History - Donna Tartt (text treatment plus seal of a stag)

The Secret History – Donna Tartt: now I’m not zeroing in on fantasy reads, one of my all-time favourite books is a no-brainer. This dark psychological thriller of murderous Classics students, class tensions and envy has lived rent-free in my head since my Latin teacher first recommended it to me. I don’t know what he hoped or expected from that, but we all loved it, and then teased him relentlessly. Do not give teenage girls this sort of ammunition, folks.

A Memory Called Empire / A Desolation Called Peace – Arkady Martine: adding a SF reread was hard. The Expanse is so big that a collected edition might make a bridge back to the mainland (and be impossible to download because of filesize, so it doesn’t exist). I hear there’s a collected Murderbot Diaries on the way, which might have swung it if it were already out; a single-volume Machineries of Empire or Wayfarers would beat even my favourite socially anxious cyborg. After much deliberation, though, Arkady Martine’s duology of politics and poetry wins out over any stand-alone (or single volume from a series) on my shelf – I’ll happily give it two spots in my backpack and consider them well-filled.

Book title: A Memory Called Empire - Arkady Martine
Book cover: A Desolation Called Peace - Arkady Martine

On to books from my TBR!

The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon: if there’s one stand-alone fantasy that I might need a desert island retreat to get around to reading, it’s this epic doorstop. It’s not that I want to read it this much more than anything else (I do want to read it; there are other fantasies I will certainly read first), but if I can procrastinate about it when marooned, I should probably admit defeat and use it as a stepping stone to wade home.

Book cover: The Priory of the Orange Tree - Samantha Shannon a dragon wound around a tower against an orange sky
Book cover: The Stone Sky - N K Jemisin (a green archway)

The Stone Sky – NK Jemisin: while I’m a little nervous about taking the final volume of this trilogy without its predecessors (given it’s over three years since I read The Obelisk Gate, how the hell did that happen), a desert island feels like the safest place to read it. I’m pretty certain it’s going to smash me into little bits, and at least I’ll have plenty of time (and some comfort reads) to put myself back together again.

The Burning God – RF Kuang: another series closer, but I’ve recently re/read the first two and I’m keen to chew through to the finish. This is one of those series where I am frustrated by practically every decision the protagonists take, but I can’t look away from their disastrous path. Can Nezha redeem himself? Will Rin just set fire to everything? Does the Empress have a point?

Book cover: The Burning God - R F Kuang
Book cover: The Bone Ship's Wake - RJ Barker

The Bone Ship’s Wake – RJ Barker: this is known as counting your chickens as I’m praying for an ARC (worst case, no desert islands until it’s released, okay?). However, I am burning to see what Barker will unleash for the finale, with the stakes so high and Joron reforged in so many fires he’s practically metamorphic rock.

So there we have it: I’m ready to pack! Yes, I really would bias towards rereads – I find them incredibly comforting, and this feels like a good balance of lifelong vs recent favourites to satisfy different moods.

What books would you want to have with you on a desert island?