library

Six Books for a Desert Island #2

I don’t know if I’m going to make a series of these but a second book was already in my mind.

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner (Daniel Defoe)

It may seem odd to chose this title for a desert island, or it might be seen as practical. Having read it a few times, I don’t think it would be of much practical resource other than to kindle a distress-call bonfire in the event of a passing ship. This is not to say it isn’t a great read; I find it very entertaining in a “ripping yarn” sort of way.

Some have it as the original novel, where novels all began; I can’t quite see that but it might explain the enormous title. Of course, being fiction, though possibly based on the real life castaway, Alexander Selkirk, it’s all made up but two things about the account are more implausible then the rest; after 28 years, mostly alone – the native he names “Friday” only turns up towards the end – he doesn’t go completely insane, and some time after his eventual rescue, the fool decides to go back!

I picked my old copy up many moons ago, together with Gulliver’s Travels – which also has a ridiculously long title (see below) – in nice, mock antique cover, pocket-sized editions, though the font size is so small it would probably give me a headache now. But you can pick it up on ebook for nothing as it’s so old there’s no copyright. Not much good for a desert island, perhaps.

excellent related reads;

Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, In Four Parts, By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, by Jonathan Swift

This quite timeless satirical look at mankind and its peculiarities needs no more elaboration from me. I haven’t read it for a while but I expect there’s a relevant piece comparable to our dear “Brexit” and “Will-of-the-people” referendums in there somewhere. If not, we can revisit the controversy surrounding the little-endians and the big-endians instead.

An Island To Oneself by Tom Neale

Growing up in our house, we weren’t a bookish family. There was a shelf of books which mainly held a Pears Encyclopaedia, The Guinness Book of Records, The AA Book of the Road, a few recipe books, and several of my Beano and Dandy annuals. I did have regular subscriptions to several children’s encyclopaedic magazines, paid for by my grandfather, and very occasionally “found” books made their way into our home.

My mum was given this one at work and passed it straight on to me. It is a fascinating account of a man volunteering to spend six years on a desert island, living by his wits. Now, this would be of immense practical use if this exercise wasn’t actually hypothetical. Having said that, I remember he once repaired a leaky boat by pouring paint into the cracks. Hmm, it sounded convincing at the time…

I don’t know what happened to my copy but I don’t have it, and as if to rub salt in the wound, it is out-of-print and I’ve seen copies on sale at prices as high as £160. This kind of thing just makes me want to read it more.

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Worms and Casts

“A moth ate words

the pilfering visitor was not one wit the wiser

because he had gulped in those words.”


I had a thick head waking up this morning, the result of neglecting exercise, too much rich food, half a bottle of red before bedtime and mostly down to a cold I’ve been trying to ignore since Christmas Eve.

My eyes can’t stand to read or write, and my brain can’t bear to compute, but I need some distraction to relax and shift the ache. So I look at the Swiss Army Knife of a tablet by my side and wonder what else it can offer.

Podcasts! There’s an app for these which came pre-installed and at some point I must have selected some preferences as it’s lined up a series called The Essays, short audio pieces on Anglo-Saxon history. This is perfect because the gentle tone of an intelligent human voice can be soporific and the subject isn’t at this moment a matter of importance; I can tune in and out as desired, sipping occasionally from a tall glass of ginger and lemongrass cordial, mindful to keep my hydration up.

Actually, the podcasts proved to be very interesting and I love all those “Dark Ages” names; Bede, Egbert, Eadfrith, Ethelred, Athelstan. Why on Earth aren’t they more popular nowadays? Bladud?


The lines at the top are quoted from a podcast on Eadfrith, the Scribe. It takes the form of a riddle and inscribed on manuscripts as a warning against careless reading, the answer to the riddle being a bookworm.

As we close 2018, the Goodreads app tells me I’ve read nine books this year. Usually I average around twelve. In 2015, I entered a personal challenge to read twenty, which I achieved by the skin of my teeth but I didn’t look back on that as a good reading year. Occasionally I wonder with books whether less is more and even choosing one or two favourites to reread, again and again, would be better.

In the new year, we hope to be moving home and, as a designer, I’ve already begun sketching out plans including space required for our books. I’m looking at hacking some of those inexpensive IKEA Billy bookcases for the job.

The design involves comparing the available shelf space with what we have now, but I couldn’t help notice that though we’ve culled our library many times and kept only those books we loved, most of those have sat on the shelf, unread, for many years. Having a Kindle account means I don’t buy many hard or paperbacks now anyway, and a few of my favourites I’ve since picked up cheaply on Kindle.

Is displaying your books a bit of intellectual signalling, a boast, a pretentiousness?

I think it’s good to show that you’re a reader, to have a collection of books which you can identify with, much the same as having pieces of art around the place. But I should really try to read the ones I’ve shelved otherwise what’s the point?


The Essay Podcast: Eadfrith, the Scribe.