Top Ten Desert Island Reads

Which books would you want if you were stranded on a desert island? That’s the subject of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It immediately made me think of long, weighty books that you can spend a lot of time with. It also made me think about the books I love to re-read.

I decided not to include series or “complete works of” since that seemed like cheating to me.

The common characteristic of these books? They are books with characters I’ve treasured. If I have to be on an island on my own, the characters in these books are the ones I’d want with me.

Here’s my list:

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: In the category of really long books, there’s no book I’d rather read over and over again. Gabaldon is far from a perfect writer; her books are full of sexual violence and they could be edited more. But if I’m bringing one book with me to a desert island, it’s this one.
  2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry: This epic story about two friends in the Wild West is the book that has everything and you can recommend to anyone. I read it many years ago but it remains one of my favorites, and I’d love to reread it.
  3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt: This is a love-it-or-hate-it book, and it remains one of the most memorable I’ve read. The characters are unforgettable, even when you hate them. Tartt draws you into this sometimes-ridiculous story and never lets you go. But it’s not just the suspense; it’s that Tartt perfectly taps into that feeling we’ve all had of feeling like an outsider and wanting desperately to belong.
  4. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: This is my favorite Dickens, and I think that’s because it’s closest to Dickens writing about himself. I’d love to reread this one.
  5. The Stand by Stephen King: This last year, The Stand felt particularly relevant. His pandemic decimates the population and leaves survivors (in the U.S.) to find each other, rebuild, and then fight evil. More than a story about the supernatural, this book stands out because of the characters and King’s way with words. Like many of the other books on my list, Frannie and Stu and Larry feel like friends, like people I’d want to have on my team.
  6. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy: This is my favorite classic and my favorite re-read. Eustacia Vye is such an interesting character; she’s flawed and tragic but also strong. She’s someone who goes after what she wants and doesn’t care what people think, and I’ve always admired her for that.
  7. Middlemarch by George Eliot: Eliot is an amazing writer, and Middemarch would be the perfect book to reread if I had a lot of time on my hands.
  8. 28 Barbary Lane by Armistead Maupin: This is cheating a bit, but it’s a compilation of the first three books of the Tales of the City series that I physically own, and I really want to have Tales of the City if I’m going to be stranded somewhere. There’s no way I’m islanding without Michael, Maryann and Mrs. Madrigal.
  9. Emma by Jane Austen: My favorite Jane Austen, for the same reason I like Return of the Native so much. I love a heroine that isn’t “nice”. I love Emma’s independence, and I love that this is a story about her growth as a person more than it’s about romance.
  10. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver: There are a number of Kingsolver’s books that could be on this list, but I have a soft spot for this early work about two sisters from a very small town in Arizona. I read and re-read this book in college, and it just wrecked me every time. I wonder how it holds up today.

I see that in making this list, it’s really a list of the books I’d happily reread if I had the time. Maybe I need to turn this into a rereading challenge next year. I’d like to see how some of these old favorites and “comfort reads” hold up over time.

It’s also interesting that so many classics came to mind. The idea of spending hours on an island by myself made me think of the classics — I guess because at the moment, I don’t feel like I have time for 800-page books. Some of the books that almost made the list were The Woman in White, The Count of Monte Cristo, North and South, and East of Eden. I think when you know your books are limited, you want books that pack a lot of drama that also challenge your brain.

Those are my top ten books to bring on a desert island. Which books will you be bringing?

  25 comments for “Top Ten Desert Island Reads

  1. lydiaschoch
    July 27, 2021 at 8:10 am

    The Stand is a very long book, too, so you’d have plenty of time to get absorbed in the story. 🙂

    My post:

    • July 27, 2021 at 2:56 pm

      Yes, I tried to pick nice long books – The Stand would be perfect. I didn’t see the remake they just made, did you?

  2. July 27, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Outlander is a perfect pick. I think I’d take that one too. Hope this week is full of time to get lost in a book.

    • July 27, 2021 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks Regine, I appreciate the comment! Not much time this week, I’m afraid. But I know I have more time than a lot of people do.

  3. July 27, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Ha ha, I debated whether all-in-one books were cheating — but decided I had to bring at least a couple! I’d bring Outlander too, and I really debated which Jane Austen to include. (I went with P&P, but Emma is so tempting!) I know what you mean about long books and classics — Dickens is such a good choice!
    My TTT

    • July 27, 2021 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks Lisa, you can see I couldn’t resist adding one. Pride and Prejudice is a great pick too. Sounds like we’re on the same page!

  4. July 27, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Definitely smart to choose books with characters you love! Both Emma and Middlemarch are favorites of mine. 🙂

    • July 27, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Thanks for the comment! Sometimes I think I’m the only Emma fan, at least relative to Austen’s other books. Glad to hear I’m not!

      • July 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm

        Emma’s awesome! She’s so funny, and I love how she takes care of her father. This book always makes me laugh.

  5. Steph-paigesofbooks
    July 27, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    I enjoy classics as well. Here is my post-

  6. July 27, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    “I think when you know your books are limited, you want books that pack a lot of drama that also challenge your brain.” My sentiments exactly! I think I’d pick similar classics. I’ve never read Outlander or Tales of the City — from my own more contemporary favorites, I’d probably bring along one of Robertson Davies’s “trilogies,” and my omnibus volume of the Earthsea books (cheating perhaps, but I need more than ten books to help me survive!)

    • July 27, 2021 at 3:06 pm

      Ooh, Tales of the City is such a classic, though I haven’t returned to it in a long time. The characters are wonderful and it’s one of the few books that has a really good movie version. I’ve had trouble getting into Earthsea, but I loved Left Hand of Darkness and would like to read more LeGuin.

      • July 28, 2021 at 3:09 am

        I recommend The Dispossessed in that case. Another one that would be a desert island candidate for me!

  7. July 27, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve not read any of these but I’m glad you enjoyed them! Certainly would have a lot of time filled by these books.
    My TTT:

  8. July 27, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    I have Middlemarch on my list too but a different Austen. I could easily have done a list of just 10 classics – they will stand up to re-reading far more than any contemporary novel

    • July 27, 2021 at 5:47 pm

      Yes, I had quite a list of classics I thought about including – I agree they are much better for re-reading. I’d also like to tackle Les Miserables and Anna Karenina some day but decided not to include books I haven’t read.

  9. WendyW
    July 27, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    Great list. I could easily just use your list instead of mine! So many good classics on here.

    • July 27, 2021 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks Wendy! There were a lot of other classics I thought about. Your list was great too, I should have included To Kill a Mockingbird. Glad to hear we have similar reading tastes!

  10. July 27, 2021 at 7:41 pm

    I enjoyed OUTLANDER when I read it a number of years ago, but I never continued with the series for some reason. The books are huge!

    Happy TTT!


    • July 28, 2021 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks for the comment! I know a few people who didn’t continue because the end of the first one is so disturbing. If you didn’t absolutely love the first one, I wouldn’t keep on. Her books are uneven. I loved the second one, hated the third.

  11. July 27, 2021 at 10:38 pm

    I love Emma! That would be such a good choice

  12. July 28, 2021 at 4:58 am

    I’ve only read Emma from your list, hope you’ll enjoy these titles when you get to them. Happy reading. My TTT

    • July 28, 2021 at 5:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment Stefani, I hope you enjoy your “island” reading as well!

  13. July 28, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    I would say that if you are picking books for a desert island sojourn of indefinite length, rereadability would be a must. You picked a number of books that I have read a number of times–Outlander (the best in the series imo), Middlemarch, David Copperfield (my favorite Dickens too), and Emma. Animal Dreams has been languishing on my tbr shelf for years now–I came late to the Kingsolver fan club so have read mostly her more recent stuff–your recommendation makes me want to pull it off the shelf and onto the nightstand!

    Great list for the aftermath of a “three-hour tour…”

    • July 28, 2021 at 5:21 pm

      Thanks Jane! It would be so nice to have time to reread these books. Animal Dreams shouldn’t be a long read, so I hope you get to it, and I hope you love it! Very different from her other works. The Bean Trees is great too.

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