Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My "Deserted Island" Books

I recently challenged myself yet again to list my top ten 'deserted island' books, i.e., the books I most want to keep on my possession should I be stranded on a deserted island. There have been some significant changes from previous lists, and in the end I could only come up with 8 (!). Anyway, here they are:

1. Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead: A friend once told me that he thought he would be rereading and wrestling with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest for the rest of his life. For me, the equivalent is Silko's monumental Almanac of the Dead. There is so much going on in this harsh tome (about an apocalyptic clash between the indigenous and Euro-American civilizations), and yet it is so beautifully terrible, or terribly beautiful. In the end there is hope, but hope that will be bought through lots of blood and pain.

2. Stephen Beachy, The Whistling Song: A postmodern On the Road, a book about the uniquely estadosunidense desire to find ellusive truth just over the next horizon, in the next town, with the next stranger who gives you a lift or let's you crash in his home.

3. Ryu Murakami, Coin Locker Babies: Unearthing the dark heart within the polished veneer of civilization. That dark heart is the pain of disillusionment, and the tragic results of resentment arising from false promises.

4. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov: A sprawling novel of multiple voices, where the human condition is studied, laughed at and cried over. It's the crowning achievement of Dostoyevsky's life's work.

5. Kingsley M. Bray, Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life: a lengthy, assiduously researched and skillfully written study of the life of a great human being, and of the culture that nurtured him. Crazy Horse stands out as a man who carefully balanced his community with his inner life, and used the balance to become a great leader.

6. Subcomandante Marcos, Our Word Is Our Weapon: leftist polemic is supposed to be dry, demanding and dull as dishwater. This book is not. Subcomandante Marcos is a poet and an inspirational writer. When I read his words, I believe in humanity again.

7. Dan Eldon, The Journey Is the Destination: Dan Eldon's life was tragically cut short in a riot in Somalia. He left behind dozens of notbooks filled with photocollages from his travels and adventures. His mother culled out the best of the best, and put together this book, a visual musing on life, beauty and humanity.

8. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception: This is the only book on the list I've not gotten all the way through yet. But even more than Sartre's Being and Nothingness, I want to understand this book.

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