A Few Desert Island Books
The challenge. Janice Harayda (one of the smartest writers on my blogroll — and everyone there is smart of course) has posted a challenge to which many others on my roll have responded: 7 Books I’d Take To A Desert Island. We’re readers here, aren’t we, at least on a desert island without phone service?
My own choices reflect my own prejudices (“dead white male writers from a soon-to-be-dead white male writer”). But I would suggest that even if you’re not an aging white male reader, you may find something of value in this list. And of course, you are encouraged to augment / correct these biases with books you know.
- The Tao te Ching. Because.
- Electra by Euripides. If this classical tragedian has a mantra, it’s “Question everything” — and on a desert island you have plenty of time for questioning. Electra is the story of a sister and brother who are charged by the gods with avenging their father’s murder by killing his murderer — their mother and her lover. Unfortunately, the horrific act of matricide results in their exile and separation from each other (which is the ultimate punishment). Their divine cousins, the Dioscuri, who like most of the gods in Euripides’ plays may (at best) have some lukewarm affection for humans but don’t do anything to alleviate our suffering, appear at the end of the story (“deus ex machina” ha!) to tell Electra and Orestes (in Catch 22 style — the ultimate “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”) that although the brother and sister did fulfill the law of the gods in avenging their father, they shouldn’t have done so. Euripides has already thrown in the kicker that Electra’s ultimate motive may have been a jealous “Daddy’s girl” rivalry with her mother rather than the pursuit of justice, which suggests that religious structure that we believe will vindicate us in some moral universe is simply the projection of our own desires and lusts. Which we’re stuck with — damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
- The Aeneid by Virgil. One of the oldest books here is probably the most relevant for our time — alternatively hopeful and bleak. It’s the story of displacement, whose protagonist searches and sacrifices to find…