Despite the influx of new things to read this holiday season, there’s nothing quite like snuggling up with a classic. Each week, creatives share the 10 titles they would most want with them if they were marooned on a desert island — part of publisher Aaron Hicklin’s ongoing OneGrandBooks.com project. Here, eight recommend the classics that have stuck with them.
“The Complete Essays”, Michel de Montaigne
This book should, in my humble opinion, replace Gideon on hotel bedside tables around the world. An examination of what it means to be alive, an essay on every possible component of human experience, built on the endearing and radically joyous motto “What do I know?” An uplifting and sociable travel companion for all of us. A timely reminder of the toxicity of uncertainty. Directly from the 16th century to the present day. Forever and ever.
“The Great Gatsby”, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The novel I have read the most. Melinda and I love a line so much we had it painted on a wall in our house: “His dream must have seemed so close he could hardly miss it.”
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Because no one was ever sneakier with characters than Austen. It still blows my mind that its unsavory and unfortunate characters – Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine, Charlotte – are the only ones who really know what time it is.
“Madame Bovary”, Gustave Flaubert
The first feminist character in a novel. I love this period of French literature, reflecting the life of a bored woman who is trapped as a woman in a “proper” marriage as a way to keep her legacy. It was seen as introducing realism and modern narrative.
“Love in the Time of Cholera”, Gabriel García Márquez
“Love in the Time of Cholera” is not a love story, but rather a treatise on the theme of love in all its forms. Márquez’s brilliant storytelling here is a joy, turning the mundane realities of a long marriage into moments to be savored and savored. The intimate discoveries and daily bonds of marriage are both deeply human, relatable and spiritually transcendent.
“The Golden Bowl”, Henry James
I love Henry James and yet I freely admit never having made it all the way through this one. I strongly suspect that something really critical to my life is in the last 50 pages, and if I was alone with it on a desert island, I would finally find out.
“Away from the Madding Crowd”, Thomas Hardy
When I was 9, I went to a book fair behind a church in rural New Hampshire. I was allowed to choose two books. I really wanted Gary Larson’s “Beyond the Far Side” (the stuff this guy does with woodland creatures!). But I knew I had to choose one delivered book too, so I grabbed the Thomas Hardy to balance it. I remember trying to read it, highlighting all the words I didn’t understand. I gave it another crack a decade later and found it captivating. Like a soap opera with sheep. Turns out there are woodland creatures in the Hardy too.
“Anna Karenina”, Leo Tolstoy
There is a section in “Anna Karenina” where Levin goes to the fields to help the peasants with his harvest. It’s hard work, awkward and frustrating at first. The work requires strength, patience, and a self-centered connection before productivity and pleasure are possible. This passage has always stuck with me as an example of the level of commitment it takes to do anything in life well. I try to remember Levin when life or work feels overwhelming. The rest of the book, of course, is just one big masterpiece.