My Stranded-On-A-Desert-Island Reading List

I’ve never been on a cruise, but if ever I earn my sealegs on an epic journey to the Galapagos or circle the southern tip of Africa, there are certain books I’d take. It’s not because they immortalize the feeling of viewing the setting sun from an upper deck promenade or romanticize the inherently un-romantic act of indulging in a 24-hour buffet-fest; rather, I’d pack these tomes because they are the literary companions I would choose to have on a desert island for instruction or entertainment. If you’re about to set sail, it’s important to consider the books you would have in tow if you become shipwrecked and faced with the exciting reality of creating a new civilization. Below are the books I will be clutching when I arrive on that distant rocky shore, seaweed in hair, gulping salty sea air and thanking the Lord above that 1) Miraculously, the weight of several hardbacks (which I heretofore would’ve likened to an albatross) didn’t cause me to sink straight to the bottom, and 2) Sharks and mermen are completely repelled by book nerds, whose vitamin D-deficient bodies and NOOK-calloused hands reek not of blood but of public library mildew.
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
The incredible story of famed Olympic runner Louis Zamperini during World War II is made even more compelling by the fact that it’s completely true. His persistent will to survive on the high seas, in multiple Japanese POW camps, and in the dire domestic circumstances to which he returned in America, is the fabric of a narrative that would certainly provide me with the hope and hubris necessary to make it on my own on a desert island. Moreover, his refusal to give in and magnanimity might be enough for me to swallow a coconuts-for-breakfast-lunch-and-dinner diet, at least for a few weeks.
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
Let’s just say that if I don’t have to bob along on the waves in a tiny raft with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (even if he might be God), I will consider myself pretty darn lucky. Simply put, this illuminating novel contains several relevant references—both survival and spiritual in nature—that would assist me as I attempt to safely chart my course to an uninhabited parcel of jungle.
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
While including the fictional autobiography of Robinson Crusoe—one of literature’s most well-known castaways—seems a tad obvious, here’s my justification: having a first edition on hand (which would obviously go by the original title: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an un-inhabited island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates) would provide useful not only when my circumstances require me to familiarize myself with how to converse with/evade cannibals and pirates, but also when I need to barter with these same unsavory sorts. While some of you might call this a frivolous use of a precious literary artifact, I contend that you would likely do the same, faced with the grim realities of becoming a shish kebob or walking the plank, respectively.
Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut
Just in case it ever becomes my sole responsibility to forge a new species and corresponding social structure, I would consider this homage to Darwinism to be a must-have evolutionary handbook. However, while I don’t disagree with Vonnegut’s indictment on overlarge human brains, I think we can hope for a little better than near-sexless, furry, seal-like creatures. And not just because I don’t think I’d want to sunbathe next to them. There are also the snouts, and the nubbins—ewww!
Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson
This example of narrative nonfiction brings to life not only the early history of the radio, but also a cross-Atlantic chase of Hawley Crippen, an otherwise benign murderer who, with his paramour (and Scotland Yard hot on his trail), boarded a high-speed steamer bound for Canada. Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of material within for me to extrapolate for my own gain: how to operate a wireless radio (in case I need to assume control of on-board communications), and tips on how to blend into the cruising crowd (if I want to appear nonchalant as I make a desperate dash for the lifeboat with the Baywatch-y captain.)
Honorable mention (the books I will reluctantly toss should an impatient, dog-paddling survivor request access to my raft): The Odyssey by Homer, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Island of the Blue Dophins by Scott O’Dell, The Babysitters Club Super Special #1: Babysitters on Board!, and my well-loved Lego cruise ship manual #1955.
What books will you be clutching when you arrive on that distant rocky shore?