Ask The Blogger: What 3 Books Would You Take To A Deserted Island?

One of the most important reasons the Berryville Public Library decided to create a blog is we wanted to provide a form for conversation with our patrons. To that end, I’m more than happy to take requests and suggestions for items to review and topics to discuss.

I’ve already received several great recommendations of things to review and write about, and I decided to start this series of posts with the first suggestion I received, from Kris. (Thank you again, Kris!) At our blog launch reception on January 19th, she asked me what three books I’d take with me to a deserted island, so here’s my answer:

This is a really hard question for me to answer because, as it’s probably obvious by now, I love books. So the idea of narrowing my list to 3 is hard for that reason alone.

In addition, my taste in books (and music and movies and television, really anything) changes frequently. If you ask me today what my favorite books are, my answer will be different from what it would have been a few months ago and what it will be a few months from now. Because my taste is so fickle, part of the challenge of selecting 3 books I’d take to a deserted island is gauging whether or not it’s a book that would hold my interest indefinitely.

When she asked me the question, I told Kris the first 3 things that first came to mind, and what follows is pretty similar, though I have refined it as I’ve had more time to consider my choices and reasoning.

#1–My first choice actually depends on how strictly we’re quantifying 3 books. Kris told me she was willing to accept a set of books as being 1 item, so in that case, I would definitely take a set of encyclopedias with me. I am a trivia geek who loves encyclopedias. I didn’t realize how much random trivia I wonder about on a regular basis until I was stuck in an apartment without wifi or books for days on end after a move and had no way of looking up all of the things I absentmindedly started thinking about, like the medical name for lazy eye and why Don Knotts left the Andy Griffith show. It was maddening to be deprived of an easy means of finding answers.

I’m thinking if I end up on a deserted island, I’m going to need something to tide me over when I want to look up answers or when I’m bored and want to read about whatever topic comes to mind. Now, if you want to play this game more strictly by the rules and object to me taking 20 some books and counting them as 1, you have a fair point. In that case, I’d take a world almanac, probably the most recent year available. It’s not as expansive information-wise as a set of encyclopedias, but there’s still a lot of varied information that should keep me occupied.

#2–When Kris and I chatted about books to take, she and I both agreed that it would be practical to have some sort of survival manual on hand. I don’t know about you, but I’m not entirely confident in my abilities to keep myself alive on a deserted island without some extra help. Incidentally, despite my proclivity for pondering and researching odd topics, I’d never given any thought to which survival guide to use when stuck on a deserted island.

Just based on what I found in our library, I’d probably either pick between Alexander Stillwell’s The Encyclopedia of Survival Techniques or Chris McNab’s How to Survive Anything, Anywhere. Currently I’m leaning more toward Stillwell’s book (I really do like encyclopedias), but the primary reason for picking one of these two is that both of them cover a range of terrains, from survival at sea to tropical areas to polar environments. When I think of deserted islands, I automatically envision something tropical, but there’s no guarantee my deserted island will be tropical! It might be somewhere really cold. I would want a book that at least covers several different environment types, and both of these do.

Encyclopedia of Survival TechniquesHow To Survive

#3–Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. One of my problems with picking books for this challenge is I don’t often feel the need to reread books. Sometimes I do–and it’s usually unpredictable as to what it will be or when I will read it again–but it’s not something I do regularly. In fact, I am much more likely to reread something if it’s been years, and I don’t really remember it.

I have some friends who tell me they reread Pride and Prejudice or Lord of the Rings every year. The only book I’ve ever felt the compulsion to reread on an annual basis is Capote’s In Cold Blood. I’m not even sure what compels me to keep coming back to this book, Capote’s famous Nonfiction Novel, the sordid true story of the murder of a farming family in 1950s Kansas by two dysfunctional drifters.

But at least once a year, I find myself going about my day and suddenly thinking, “I really should reread In Cold Blood.” I think part of the appeal for me is that it scares me–the story it relates is truly horrific.  In fact, I had nightmares for days after reading this book the first time. That alone unnerved me but also fascinated me because I don’t usually have nightmares after reading books.

I also enjoy the complexity of the story, and that’s the primary reason I think I keep returning to it. I think the book’s a masterpiece of narrative structure, Capote is one of my favorite literary stylists, and the characters the book explores are so complex and contradictory, at once achingly familiar and utterly distant, that there’s plenty for me to think about and analyze.

I first read this book when I was a teenager. Since then, I’ve read it eleven more times and spent sixteen months researching and writing a master’s thesis on it. It’s the only book whose opening lines I’ve ever bothered memorizing. My personal copy is almost completely covered with my annotations in the margins, but I still notice new things every time I pick it up. I know if I’m stuck on a deserted island for an unknown amount of time, I’ll never be bored with In Cold Blood, even if it also means I don’t get much sleep after reading it.

In Cold Blood

So . . . what 3 books would you take with you to a deserted island? Also, if you have suggestions for a topic you’d like to see me write about or a book/series/movie you’d like me to review, tell me in the comments! You can also leave suggestions in person at the circulation desk. 

Don’t forget, if you’re interested in checking any of the books I mentioned in the post, just click on the cover to follow a link to our online catalog. You can search for more information or place a request after searching for the title. 


Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

11 thoughts on “Ask The Blogger: What 3 Books Would You Take To A Deserted Island?”

  1. Like you, I have so many books to choose from! It’s so hard! Argh! I definitely would bring the Harry Potter series, as well as a book on wilderness survival. As for the third… I guess I’ll pick Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America” or “A Walk in the Woods” as they are informative and humorous.


    1. I can definitely see taking Harry Potter. I binge-read them in a couple of weeks because they were so addictive, but I’ve been going back and taking my time while I reread different parts. There’s a lot of subtle stuff going on I didn’t even notice at first. They could definitely keep me occupied for a long time.

      Incidentally, which Harry Potter book would you pick as your favorite?

      I haven’t read Bryson before. I’ll have to check him out!

      Thanks for commenting, Kris! And thanks again for suggesting the topic!


  2. I would probably take the “Harry Potter” series because, seriously, have you seen those books?, they’re huge (at least to me)!!
    Next I would take either of the survival guides that you mentioned.
    Finally I would take “The Iliad” because if I’m going to be there for a while, it would last me a while because of how boring it is and eventually I would HAVE to read something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha Yes, they are definitely nice thick books! I think they have a lot of reread value too, so between that and length, they’d be a great pick.

      Haha Your comment on the Iliad made me laugh so hard! I tried reading the Chapman translation of that when I was a teenager. I was so bored and so confused. I don’t even think I finished it, so I stayed far away from that book for a long before I finally found a good translation.


  3. I would definitely bring the Harry Potter series (my favorite is either 3 or 5) because I could reread those over and over again and never get bored. I would also bring Robinson Crusoe (for an interesting survival story), and Moby Dick because I have always wanted to read it and I would, theoretically, have the time to read it.


    1. I agree with the rereadability (is that a word?) of the Harry Potter books! I’ve been going back over them after my initial mad dash through them, and they really are rewarding to revisit.

      I like your other two choices too! Incidentally, I’ve never actually read either of them, though I do remember being a little obsessed with one of those Robinson Crusoe for kids books when I was about 7. It was my cousin’s book, and I was insanely but secretly jealous that she owned it and I didn’t.

      Thanks for commenting, Jen!


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