July 7, 2017

"If I can take just one book, to the proverbial desert island? Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. I would spend the rest of my life memorizing it."

"Then I would walk around the island chanting Song of Myself forever. Not a bad way to live out your days on a desert island."

From "25 Famous Women on Their Favorite Books" (in NY Magazine). I've selected the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert.

Also interesting: The book Tina Fey picks is "Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir."

I was going to say I actually don't know who Elizabeth Gilbert is. Imagining that perhaps she's one of these writers of the short stories that I always skip over when I read The New Yorker, I was going to say I actually don't know who Elizabeth Gilbert is in a kind of modest, self-effacing way. But then I looked her up and saw that she's the author of "Eat, Pray, Love," a book I'm proud that I wouldn't even consider reading. And now I'm proud that I didn't recognize her name, but I'm ashamed that I got sucked in by her quote. Song of Myself, indeed. Bleh. The very thing I liked, I now hate.

92 comments:

tcrosse said...

"How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" must be flying off the shelves.

chickelit said...

Was Gilbert a White House intern?

Ambrose said...

Leaves of Grass was Bill Clinton's pick-up book:
https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1998/mar/12/walt-monica-and-bill/#

rhhardin said...

Just skip to the last scene of the Eat Pray Love DVD. Any story you imagine leads up to it is better than what actually does.

rhhardin said...

Runaway Bride was okay. Notting Hill was okay. Erin Brockovich was okay. Larry Crowne was okay. The difference seems to be the script.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

If Elizabeth Gilbert were wittier I'd be thinking she joking at her own expense. I could be wrong, but I don't think she is that smart.

Earnest Prole said...

Was Gilbert a White House intern?

Beat me to it.

CJinPA said...

"Boat Building Made Easy"

Bob Boyd said...

It might be better to take a copy of 'How to Survive on a Desert Island'

Ron said...

and her music? Nothing buy Dylan....all the time....forever.

St. George said...

“My God, what an impact [1984] had on me. The idea of Big Brother was, and I may still, influence my thinking about democracy; the idea that we would have a government that was all-knowing and all-doing for human beings was frightening…That was a seminal piece in my waking up to the role of government in individual lives.”

Justice Sotormayor.

I guess she must believe in small government.

Nonapod said...

I've never liked the whole desert island hypothetical book/album/whatever list. Just ask "What's your favorite book?", why do we have to bring some purgatorial scenario into it?

traditionalguy said...

You might enjoy Women's Wicked Wit. It is listed in Amazon next to The Wicked Wit of Churchill.

mockturtle said...

Bob Boyd wisely recommends: It might be better to take a copy of 'How to Survive on a Desert Island'

That was my thought: The SAS Survival Guide and The Bible. Both of which I have. I would be well equipped both physically and spiritually to meet the challenge.

Robert said...

If you click over to the list, that isn't really Tina Fey's favorite book. She was recommending it in December 2016 because she thought America had just elected a Nazi and she doesn't want artists to roll with what he's doing like Riefenstahl did with Hitler.
Leftist hysteria.....

PoNyman said...

What kind of incentive would it take to have you read 'Eat, Pray, Love' from your dear readers? Greater than or less than eating an egg salad sandwich.

Scott M said...

Desert islands would be deadly and unpleasant. Deserted islands, on the other hand, could be of any biome, as long as it's free of human inhabitants.

madAsHell said...

Have you ever noticed that all the click-bait includes lists?

chickelit said...

She was recommending it in December 2016 because she thought America had just elected a Nazi and she doesn't want artists to roll with what he's doing like Riefenstahl did with Hitler.

Riefenstahl lived out her dotage hanging with hot African men. Isn't that every feminist's fantasy?

Bob Boyd said...

If I have to wash up on an island, I hope it's a dessert island.

William said...

I wonder if Tina Fey could glean any useful lessons from the life of Eisenstein. If you're going to be a propagandist, be a propagandist for left wing causes. Your place is safe with posterity. D.W. Griffith has caught more flack than Eisenstein.

rhhardin said...

I'd take early Derrida, say Of Grammatology or Writing and Differance, as standing repeated slow close readings. Always something new.

Bob Boyd said...

With my luck I'd wash up on a dessert island and my only book would be a calorie counter.

D said...

....And in other news, The List of Things that Provoke Immediate Althousian Hostility got a little longer again yesterday. It seemed liked "carrying a set of golf clubs, not a guitar" was identified just days ago, but for those within radius, please note that "any references tied to Elizabeth Gilbert" will result in severe sanction, if not a complete dismissal of worth.

CNN has Elizabeth Gilbert on all the time. Or so I hear.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Can it be a picture book? Because I'd want some fapping material.

William said...

If I were caught on a desert island, I would opt for the longest book available. Can you pick the Encyclopedia Brittanica? Also a lengthy compilation of Victorian porn would come in handy......Robinson Crusoe might have some useful tips.

Kevin said...

I bet all books would taste like chicken.

Sally327 said...

A list like this is always a bit suspect in my opinion because I think people feel they have to pick something considered "serious literature" when it would be more believable if someone answered "50 Shades of Grey".

Bob Boyd said...

Another good castaway book would be 'Cooking With Coconuts'

Michael said...

Some really bad taste in books. I believe some chose the only book they had ever heard of.

David Begley said...

Ok, what's Ann favorite book other than Supreme Court Reports?

David Begley said...

If you are going to buy one of those books, don't click on the embedded links. Use the Althouse portal.

rhhardin said...

Rats the local Rush affiliate keeps interrupting with tornado warnings. This ruins the HD recording.

They interrupt for absolutely everything.

tcrosse said...

My favorite book, not suitable for a Desert Island.
The Book of Love

Bob Boyd said...

"My favorite book, not suitable for a Desert Island."

You could write your own book while you were there.
It would probably turn out to be sort of a cross between The Book of Love and Song of Myself.

MayBee said...

. And now I'm proud that I didn't recognize her name, but I'm ashamed that I got sucked in by her quote. Song of Myself, indeed. Bleh. The very thing I liked, I now hate.

Hahahhaha!
This is great.

MadisonMan said...

Why would anyone take the trite favorite book for a desert island question seriously?

The book I'm reading now has a part about Carrie Buck. What a horrible USSC decision (Buck v. Bell, or vice versa)! Was it ever overturned?

What book would you take to a desert island?

Stalking the Wild Asparagus -- or some tropical version thereof.

Dude1394 said...

Lonesome Dove

Karen said...

Ann Althouse - But Elizabeth Gilbert has also written Big Magic, by all accounts, an important new look at creativity.

roesch/voltaire said...

Like Althouse I skipped "Eat, Love, Pray," but at my daughter's urging have read "The Signature of All Things' by Gilbert which is an interesting almost mythical tale about the Enlightenment, botany, moss,evolution, wealth and finally eros. Gilbert's protagonist in this novel suffer some of her over-the-top best ever trait she exhibited in Eat.The list has no philosophy or mention of mystical and inspired writers from the New Testament to Rumi seems an odd omission and makes me suspect it is promotional at best.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I'd take Atlas Shrugged.

With my whole life ahead of me, and nothing else to do, I might finally make it through John Galt's monologue.

MadisonMan said...

Buck v. Bell has never specifically been overturned, per Wikipedia.

Robert Cook said...

Hmmm...if I were stranded on an island and I could have only one book...that's a tough one. Perhaps Old Masters by Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. It's not my favorite book--do I even have a favorite book?--but Bernhard's knotty, repetitive, convoluted prose and relentless examination of human consciousness--his novels are told in first person, and the books, whatever else they're about, are primarily about the narrator's consciousness--would lend itself to multiple readings. (Or another of his books, Concrete. They're all of a piece, but those are two I particularly liked.)

The beginning sentences of Old Masters:

"Although I had arranged to meet Reger at the Kunsthistorisches Museum at half-past eleven, I arrived at the agreed spot at half-past ten in order, as I had for some time decided to do, to observe him, for once, from the most ideal angle possible and undisturbed, Atzbacher writes. As he had his morning spot in the so-called Bordone Room, facing Tintoretto's White-Bearded Man, on the velvet-covered settee on which yesterday, after an explanation of the so-called Tempest Sonata, he continued his lecture to me on the Art of the Fugue, from before Bach to after Schumann, as he put it, and yet was in the mood to talk rather more about Mozart and not about Bach, I had to take up position in the so-called Sebastiano Room; I was compelled therefore, entirely against my inclination, to submit to Titian in order to be able to observe Reger in front of Tintoretto's White-Bearded Man, moreover standing, which was no disadvantage because I prefer standing to sitting, especially when engaged in observing people, and I have all my life been a better observer standing up than sitting down, and as, looking from the Sebastiano Room into the Bordone Room, I eventually, by focusing as hard as I could, was able to see Reger completely in profile, not even impaired by the back-rest of the settee, Reger who, no doubt badly affected by the sudden change in the weather during the preceding night, kept his black hat on his head the whole time, so as I was therefore able to see the whole left side of Reger exposed to me, my plan to observe Reger undisturbed for once had succeeded."

The whole book is like that, and all of Bernhard's books are like that. They take some effort to read, but they become hypnotic, and are hilarious in their way.

Or, A Clockwork Orange? I've already read it three or four times, and I have half a dozen or so copies of the book in different editions. The story is straightforward enough, but I find the invented slang in which the book is written a pleasure to read and "hear" in my mind. It is language as music. (As is Bernhard, actually.)

The Stories of Ray Bradbury? Not my favorite SF author, (that is Philip K. Dick), but he writes beautifully, and his range of stories would mitigate against boredom.

I'll have to go through my library to see if there are other books I would consider. There are certainly a fair number of books I have or will re-read.

mockturtle said...

Per rhhardin: Rats the local Rush affiliate keeps interrupting with tornado warnings. This ruins the HD recording.

They interrupt for absolutely everything.


:-D

The Godfather said...

a) I'm obviously a schlub, because I've heard of only 8 of the 25 "famous" women. Maybe "famous" doesn't mean what I think it means.

b) For the desert island I'd pick the Bible. I've read all of it except for Chronicles, so if I were marooned long enough I might be able to finish it.

Bill R said...

"Eat, Pray, Love," a book I'm proud that I wouldn't even consider reading.

Funny

Rabel said...

Here's one of Walt's poems from Leaves of Grass that Gilbert might like:

With all thy gifts America,
Standing secure, rapidly tending, overlooking the world,
Power, wealth, extent, vouchsafed to thee—with these and like of
these vouchsafed to thee,
What if one gift thou lackest? (the ultimate human problem never solving,)
The gift of perfect women fit for thee—what if that gift of gifts
thou lackest?
The towering feminine of thee? the beauty, health, completion, fit for thee?
The mothers fit for thee?

Fernandinande said...

I'd take a magazine subscription to the island, but not a magazine with "New York" in its name.

Fernandinande said...

A 5th Order Eddington Monkey says a poem:

"I Celebrate my flesh in eddies, and air through my ease observing a spear of summer grass itself a child, the complains of young men and drift it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it mean,
But I shake my soul,
I lean and accuses me to the flag of blood.

Failing taken,
I effuse my white heads of the vapor and of hay in the colorless,
It may be yourself."

stever said...

This is like picking your favorite Beatles song, just invites some snob to put it down.

William said...

Just presently I'm reading Gulag by Anne Applebaum. It's a meticulously researched history of the Soviet gulags. I might be bummed out about being stranded on a desert island, but, still, it would be better than doing time in a Gulag. Some other books might remind me of all the things I'm missing out on and be depressing. Some of Primo Levi' s books might also be useful in this context.

orthodoc said...

Boatbuilding Manual, Fifth Edition (International Marine-RMP) by Robert Steward, would be my choice.

Leaves of Grass? Really? Why not just go for Walden Pond by Thoreau, if you're going to be a pretentious asshole?

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

I would take "How to Identify Poisonous Plants and Animals"

Whatever I picked, it would have to be really thick with good heavy paper. That paper would come in handy.

Henry said...

Leaves of Grass is pretty thick. I'd get the large print version.

Henry said...

In seriousness, the idea of picking something to memorize and recite isn't a bad one. I might pick a dual-language edition of Beowulf with translator notes. That could pass the time.

Robert Cook said...

"Leaves of Grass? Really? Why not just go for Walden Pond by Thoreau, if you're going to be a pretentious asshole?"

Why does someone who would pick one of these be a pretentious asshole? Do you think people do not genuinely like these books?

(I would never try to read Leaves Of Grass because I do not really understand or like poetry. I have read a few poems I've liked, but most of what I've tried to read is beyond my understanding or patience.)

Quaestor said...

My one book would be The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for three reasons: Firstly, though one book the work is in six quite hefty volumes, therefore I'd have much more diversion than the simpleminded Miss Frey and the pretentious Miss Gilbert. The first edition of Leaves of Grass (Gilbert neglects to specify which edition she'd take.) is only 160 pages. Perhaps she's a slow reader... Secondly, after thirst and starvation the greatest danger on a desert island (a 17th-century term meaning an uninhabited place rather than a waterless wasteland) is madness, as in Ben Gunn and his cheese fixation, therefore it is mandatory that the rational mind is challenged and stimulated. Taking a slim volume to such an island to memorize and recite to oneself is pretty goddamned mad already. I imagine a Ben Gunn would seem a Seneca by comparison to Elizabeth Gilbert marooned. Lastly, Gibbon is not only eloquent, he's hilarious. In the realm of witty English prose, Oscar Wilde is a mere villien compared to the baronial Mister Gibbon.

mockturtle said...

Nothing pretentious about either Whitman or Thoreau. What would they recommend? Marvel Comics?

mockturtle said...

Reading Homer in the original Greek might seem pretentious.

Michael said...

Proust, maybe, because it would last a good long time. Or Anthony Powell. Or Tolstoy.

Michael said...

Ah, or Gibbon. Thanks, Quaestor. I have five volumes of six left to read.

Robert Cook said...

"Reading Homer in the original Greek might seem pretentious."

But then, if one can read the original Greek, that would be the best choice...translations are always only just versions of the original.

JimT said...

I would take "Swingle's Practical Handbook for Millwrights," so maybe I could work my way off he stupid island.

mikeski said...

"Why does someone who would pick one of these be a pretentious asshole? Do you think people do not genuinely like these books?"

"classic": a book everybody wants to have read, but nobody wants to read.

Quaestor said...

The discussion of Leaves of Grass brought to my mind some of my favorite pieces from that collection, particularly Cavalry Crossing a Ford, one that I have actually memorized. I found this recitation by a Harvard professor who chose to lecture on the verse in front of August Saint-Gaudens' memorial bas-relief to Robert Gould Shaw.

Here's a vid of that recitation and commentary, which makes my blood boil at the pig-ignorance of some people in academia. Not only is the prof a poor reader who should not inflict her arhythmic whine on anyone, let alone students whose parents have forked over a fortune, she so misunderstands the poem she chooses to illustrate her ramblings with an image of infantry.

William Chadwick said...

"Cab it be a picture book? Because I'd want some fapping material." Then I recoomend "The Playmate Book: Five Decades of Centerfolds," from PLAYBOY and available through Amazon. Greatest book ever published.

Todd Galle said...

Well, if Robinson Crusoe can do it with just the Bible (I don't know if Selkirk had one), it's good enough for me. although I can appreciate the practicality of a boat building guide if heavily illustrated. Already having a nautical background gives one a great advantage over land slugs such as myself.

The Bear said...

If I didn't have a Bible - it would be M.M. Kaye's "The Far Pavilions" which is of all the couple thousand books I've read - still the best book I've ever come across.

Smilin' Jack said...

Boatbuilding? Bah--probably a damn boat that got me stranded there in the first place. I'd take "The Compleat Idiot's Guide to Building a Gulfstream G650 out of Materials Commonly Found on Desert Islands".

mockturtle said...

Smilin' Jack, I like the way you think! But wouldn't a Cessna 172 be easier?

mockturtle said...

But then, if one can read the original Greek, that would be the best choice...translations are always only just versions of the original.

You are right, Cookie. That goes for the Bible, too.

Quaestor said...

mockturtle wrote: Reading Homer in the original Greek might seem pretentious.

Δεν διαβάζω Ελληνικά, επομένως θα βαρεθώ.

Quaestor said...

Smilin' Jack, I like the way you think! But wouldn't a Cessna 172 be easier?

Easier to build, yes. But one can make jet fuel from coconuts.

Sebastian said...

"But then, if one can read the original Greek, that would be the best choice...translations are always only just versions of the original." Right. Cook: do you read German? "The beginning sentences of Old Masters" . . . sound better in German! But good either way.

Best desert island book, assuming you are are beyond rescue for quite sometime: Proust. Not just because it is long and beautiful etc. etc., but because it is the ideal book to enable you endlessly to reimagine your own life. In the end, it's all we've got.

Big Mike said...

I would bring a big book printed on soft paper -- as I read it I can use the pages I've read hot toilet paper.

mockturtle said...

Quaestor writes: Δεν διαβάζω Ελληνικά, επομένως θα βαρεθώ.

Showoff! ;-D

HoodlumDoodlum said...

The Bible is a smart bet.

Financial Times Alphaville - Chat With Economist Tyler Cowen
Cardiff Garcia It’s definitely become overrated, temporarily. Maybe that will cycle back at some point. Okay, here is the game, let’s call it “Desert Island, This or That”. I’m going to give you two options. You’re going to a desert island. If it’s two people, then you get to choose the entire body of work to which that person contributed, you have to choose between the two, right?

So here we go – let’s do written works first, ready?

Tyler Cowen Yes.

Cardiff Garcia Plato or David Hume?

Tyler Cowen David Hume. You’d get bored with Plato, too many of them are a little bit the same, too many of the questions are insoluble. Hume has the history of England, he wrote on religion, philosophy, he had wonderful economics, not even close.

Cardiff Garcia Shakespeare or your 15 favourite novels published in your lifetime?

Tyler Cowen Shakespeare beats anything you can come up with. Unless it’s Shakespeare or everything else, Shakespeare is going to win, anything you’re even tempted.

Cardiff Garcia Wait a minute, because this raises an interesting question. Shakespeare “unless it’s everything else” — then what’s the marginal book? Is it the 30th book, the 50th book, the 100th book?

Tyler Cowen That’s a very Cowenian question actually. What margin do you stop? I don’t know, I’m tempted to just keep on saying Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare.

If it’s like the next best thousand books, of course I’d pick 1,500, okay. But 30 is not coming close, 30 best novels of my lifetime. Not many do I need to read five times but there are easily 20, 25 Shakespeare plays I could just read the rest of my life N number of times and not get sick of them.

Robert Cook said...

@Sebastian:

No, I do not read German. Are you a fan of Bernhard? Wonderful! A rare breed in this country.

I've never read Proust. Maybe someday...if I'm stranded on a desert island....

Sebastian said...

"Are you a fan of Bernhard?" I'll say: not yet. But your high regard for his work makes me more interested. Yeah, and that's a compliment:).

But we hillbillies do prefer the original languages . . .

D said...

"An Encyclopedia of Comments from the Althouse Blog."

The sorting possibilities would wile away the hours.

Bruce Gee said...

The collected works of Patrick O’Brien, or The Book of Romans by St. Paul. I’ve read both half a dozen times, but they are both worth several more reads.

gpm said...

>>My one book would be The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for three reasons:

I hate this kind of question, but that was pretty much my thought.

We had a similar question in a somewhat different context at an NSF science program when I was in high school. The big divide was between the Boy Scout Manual and the Bible. I think I was on the side of the Bible.

--gpm

Michael said...

Robert Cook
Begin Proust immediately. Imperative. Not Montcreiff but the Lydia Davis translation. You will not regret itl

Robert Cook said...

@Michael,

Thanks for the recommendation, and for the specification as to which translation to read.

Robert Cook said...

Thanks for the compliment, Sebastian.

Freeman Hunt said...

"That was my thought: The SAS Survival Guide and The Bible. Both of which I have. I would be well equipped both physically and spiritually to meet the challenge."

There should be an Island Edition bound in a single volume as these island situations always seem to involve a limited number of items.

And good thing because being on a deserted island would be bad enough without it also being cluttered with junk. Allow unlimited items and pretty soon people are saying, "Well, there might be a bird on the island, so I may as well bring the egg peeler, and who knows if I might want to take up macrame again."

Freeman Hunt said...

You could bring a Greek primer. Then if you were rescued, you'd know Greek, and that would be great, but if you weren't rescued, you'd know Greek but have no books in Greek to read, and that would make your situation deliciously tragic and something to endlessly ponder.

Achilles said...

""If I can take just one book, to the proverbial desert island? Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. I would spend the rest of my life memorizing it.""

This question should be: "What book do I want people to associate with me so they think I am cool?"

Anyone with any self honesty is going to say something like: "Porn. With Pictures."

Some might say something with a lot of paper so when I burn it to make a signal it will make slightly more smoke but they are probably lying too.

Achilles said...

Big Mike said...
I would bring a big book printed on soft paper -- as I read it I can use the pages I've read hot toilet paper.

Now that's what I am talking about.

Put naked pictures of whatever works for you on those pages and you have a winner.

Make it something that when mixed with poop creates a huge amount of smoke when burned and I think that pretty much nails it.

stlcdr said...

Doesn't this idea go back to 'desert island discs'? Obviously based on the question 'what one thing would you have on a desert island?' And, of course, don't forget the modern incarnation 'naked and afraid'.

Johnathan Birks said...

If you take anything to a literal desert island you aren't going to live long enough to enjoy it. IJS