Last week, I featured the 10 records from this calendar year that I’d take with me to a deserted island (after a calamitous event, if you can imagine that) if for some strange reason I could only take 10. That was fun, and I look back on that post without utter embarrassment–though I’d make some substitutions today, of course.
This week, as promised–I know you’ve been on tenterhooks out there–I’m featuring 10 books I’ve read this year that I’d haul with me. I’ve had to tweak this experiment some, because I just don’t read new books as regularly as I listen to new records. I walk my reading path very randomly–with books I read about in other books, with books I read about while reading about other books, with books I hear great authors talking about–so I’ve given myself more leeway. Unfortunately, I didn’t read The Count of Monte Cristo or Middlemarch this year, because they’d have been perfect for this cause.
The categories were designed to fit a listening regimen; they don’t fit reading as perfectly, but I enjoy pounding square pegs into round holes. Also, reading is a very esoteric endeavor. Books with seemingly clear intentions conjure vastly different states of being for different readers, depending on their experiences. Thus, some of my choices may not make immediate sense–but I attempt to provide clarity with an additional line of commentary for each. Also, each book image carries a link to additional information about its contents.
To refresh your (and my) memory, here are the aspects of healthy, durable desert island life that guided my choices:
Appreciation (of the Present)
Lightness (Hope, Laughter, Love)
Darkness (Despair, Rage, Hate)
And here is my reading list for isolation:
One. To keep myself physically fit, encourage me to dance (easier when I’m by myself, anyway), and inspire me to invent my own kind of tai chi:
Fitness, dancing, invention–action!–remain this not-merely-a-survivor’s driving forces, and each step of her life’s been animated by one, the other, or all of the above.
Two. To keep my mind sharp, engaged, challenged, and fed (this would have to be something durably challenging and nutritious, ya dig?):
Oddly, this durably thought-provoking book is slim, but the complexity and attractiveness of the philosophical viewpoints it proposes would keep me engaged for years.
Three. To practice mindfulness and master the emptying of my mind and desires:
Again, odd. But, 1) there is something oddly mindful and self-abnegating about Hoke’s way of proceeding through the weird world of Miami crime, and 2) what better to empty the mind of care than laughter at human foibles and strivings?
Four. To elicit and help sustain deep and restful slumber:
Dantzic’s dreamlike photos of Lady Day in twilight are almost narcotic.
Five. Um, OK, I will technically be alone…but my imagination and memories, and the sun, moon, stars, and breeze will be my companions:
Villareal, one of the many amazing young Latinx poets at work today, composes verse that isn’t necessarily erotic, about moments that aren’t necessarily sexual, but her lines are so limber and studded with physical imagery they are arousing nonetheless.
Six. To conjure the best memories of my friends, family, wife, pets, and exploits (a tough one, because recent records connect quicker to recent interactions–the past, but certainly not the deep past):
This isn’t my favorite Erdrich, but its sweeping, unfortunately not-so-futuristic tale of a pregnant woman, her family, her lovers, and her tribe as they struggle to survive a cruel twist in America’s forward motion would evoke many of my relationships so far (plus, my wife and I listened to it in its totality on a blissful cross-country trip only dementia or something like that could steal from me).
Seven. To encourage me to appreciate my circumstances, either by contrast with the agonies of society or by putting the glories of isolation into relief:
Another slim book that I adore; I’ve already read it twice, and I’m sure I’ll read it again, but, on a deserted island, its picture of a father (?) and daughter’s solitary existence in Portland’s Forest Park–by dint of savvy, hard work, and close hewing to a jaundiced philosophical outlook about modern society–would serve me very well.
Eight. To encourage me to sing freeing, determined, defiant, melancholy songs–luckily, no one will be there to hear.
A stretch to include one of my favorite books of the year, but Anderson’s story of one city’s exploits in dreaming, planning, chance, disaster, absurdity, rapacity, service, and (albeit fleeting–for now, at least) triumph is a reason to sing a song of humanity that contains multitudes.
Nine. To help me hold (and also release) the light.
Cheating again a bit here, as I just wanted to sneak in an anthology featuring work by many of my favorite current authors, and the cover photo doesn’t bode well, but taken together, these essays and stories are testament to a magnetic and repulsive United States–something I’d have to release, for better or worse, as a result of this thought experiment.
Ten. To help me embrace (and also fight) the dark.
I just finished this–a book I should have read when I was 12–and, of course, it caused me to confront the savagery done in this country’s name as well as ponder the question, “With this legacy, how can you live here?”