This post was inspired by a recent post of a fellow blogger, Beth.
Beth wrote how yesterday (January 18) was National Thesaurus Day and paid homage to Peter Mark Roget, creator of the famous Roget’s Thesaurus. Since I didn’t know about his Thesaruas beyond the basics, I went out to Wikipedia and found the following:
” Sylvia Plath considered it (Roget’s Thesaurus) her desert island book over the Bible.”
I’ve often seen the question “If you were stranded on a desert island, what one book would you want to have?”, but I never knew that such a book was referred to as your desert island book.
So it made me think, what would I choose as my desert island book.
It’s a tough question, since the answer, at least for me, is not necessarily simply choosing my favorite book. If I were to pick a novel such as Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny or Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, I think I would get tired of reading the same story over and over.
So I started thinking of some of my favorite non-fiction books, such as Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception, or William Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream. But I think I would get bored with those as well.
I also thought of humor books; I’m sure I would be desperate for some laughs while I am stranded. A couple of books that come to mind here are A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. But I think a joke loses its effectiveness after you’ve heard it a few times, so the same might be true for reading humor books .
There are also books that fall into the category of “how to survive on a desert island”. Such a book would seem to come in pretty handy, but I think I would read it cover to cover my first day, and then just occasionally refer to on an as-needed basis. I don’t think it would be the type of book that would give me much joy after that first reading.
So then I started to see the merit in Sylvia Plath’s choice of Roget’s Thesaurus. It seems like it would offer the reader endless possibilities in terms of matching words with each other and the beauty of seeing links between them. It seems like you would never fully finish working through all the links that exist in such a book.
For example, I just looked up one of my favorite words, legerdemain, in the online version of Roget’s Thesaurus, and came across many words I recognized, such as sleight-of-hand, one that surprised me, jugglery (I don’t consider juggling to be in the realm of magic), and one word I never heard of, escamotage. There was also the word conjuration, which I clicked on, and that offered several synonyms, including exorcism. I would have never linked legerdemain with exorcism, but there it is, with just one degree of separation.
I’m sure there are many examples that have much deeper links, with third, fourth, and fifth degrees of separation; it seems like the possibilities of linking words are almost endless.
And that’s just for synonyms; the Thesaurus also has antonyms.
It seems as if it’s the type of book that would provide immediate benefit (e.g., what’s another word for happy to what’s the opposite of despair) as well as a lifelong opportunity of finding connections between words.
And a book that brings endless pleasure and insight seems to be the perfect book to have on a desert island.
I also asked my family what would be their desert island book, and here is what I have heard so far:
Mary, my wife: Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
Pat, youngest: any good non-fiction book
So what about you – what would be your desert island book?
P.S. After writing this, I came across James Patterson’s response to this question, and it may actually be the best answer:
“I’d bring an empty book. And a pencil. Honestly, if one was looking to kill time on an island, it takes a bit longer to write one than to read one. And I happen to enjoy the writing as much as the reading. Sometimes even more.”
PPS: I also came across a list of the 10 most popular desert island books:
- ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce
- ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe
- ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri
- The Bible (and other religious texts)
- ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace
- ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon
- ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ by William Shakespeare
- ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
- ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker
- ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ by J.K. Rowling
*image from Michael Ullyot