7 Books I’d Take To A Desert Island

What’s on your list? Post it with the tag Desert Island Books

Janice Harayda

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John Legend on Desert Island Discs in 2022 / Credit: BBC Radio 4

Desert Island Discs — the world’s longest-running radio-interview show — first aired on the BBC in a bomb-damaged building in 1942. Producers have tweaked but not abandoned its crowd-pleasing premise: Each celebrity guest discusses eight recordings he or she would take if banished to a desert island.

But lately critics have been complaining. Too many guests are making choices that are, as one journalist put it, “bleeding obvious.” In other words, they’re picking Elton John or Simon & Garfunkel songs.

I can see the logic to choosing “Feelin’ Groovy” if you hoped to keep your spirits up while marooned (though I might nod to the “Hallelujah” chorus I’d want play when the Marines charged up the beaches to rescue me). But the complaint about the predictability of the choices struck a chord. I’d been planning to post a similar list of my desert island books, and most of my choices of were of a sort that the writer would have called “bleeding obvious.”

Should I scrap my list for a kinkier one? A different list might be less truthful, so I’ve kept my original books and added brief explanations for why I chose them. I’ve also departed from the Desert Island Discs format in a few ways, including by choosing seven books instead of eight on the theory that attention spans have diminished since Winston Churchill was prime minister.

King James Version at Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh / Photo by Susan Gerbic on Wikimedia Commons

1 The Holy Bible, King James Version

The King James Version of the Bible isn’t just the bestselling book of all time — it’s the greatest genre-bender ever written. For Christians, it melds history, biography, self-help, poetry, and a sweeping narrative of sin and redemption. For others, it gathers stories essential to understanding the modern world, including its accounts of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the Resurrection, and more.

For both groups, the KJV is a model of timeless, elegant prose. Remember the writing teachers who kept telling you to use strong verbs, omit needless words, and avoid adjectives and…

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Janice Harayda

Critic, novelist, award-winning journalist. Former book editor of the Plain Dealer and book columnist for Glamour. Words in NYT, WSJ, and other major media.