Sonya’s Desert island List

Talking Books
One woman’s inspiration is another man’s toilet paper. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of books. In my family, there are emotional arguments. The man I married, is disappointed in me. I never , never, he complains, get around to reading the wonderful non fiction volumes he dips into- Danziggers Travels, Spice, An Intimate History of Humanity et al . I’m unhappy with him as well. He can’t afford the time, he says, to get drawn into the fiction I’m constantly gripped by.
At my book club, the divisions are even sharper. There are Rushdie haters. There are Rushdie Lovers. ….

Ondaatje’s ‘The English Patient’ once provoked a bitter fight. Paul Coelho elicits a sniff of disdain. Emotions, in short, ride high on the subject of books. And while I may not, as many criticized authors will point out, have created a literary masterpiece, I sure do know a good book when I see one. Here then , as a starting post, is my current Desert Island List ( the bag of books I will carry with me in preparation of being marooned, alone, on a desert island)
1. The Mahabharata ( the single volume English translation by Kamala Subramaniam ; also the 2 volume translation by Ramesh Menon)
2. The Salman Rushdie Omnibus ( only on an island would I be able to complete his plotless wonders, his books are such poetry, but so non-page turners)
3. The Simon Winchester Omnibus ( Fell in love, last year, with his journey down the Yangtze in China entitled ‘The River at the Centre of the World’ and would like to read everything else he’s ever written)
4. The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan
5. The Ursula Le Guin Omnibus
6. The Margaret Atwood Omnibus
7. An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin
8. Roget’s Thesauras
9. Nobody’s Perfect by Anthony Lane ( collection of writings from the New Yorker’s Current Cinema critic)
10. John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ quartet .
Any one like to add to this list or comment ?

25 thoughts on “Sonya’s Desert island List

  1. Dear Sonya,
    Welcome here and I hope you are doing well. Of all your books I only have The ‘Age of Turbulence’ and still haven’t read that. I will add some books that I have read this year and last, and some that I have just bought that will be good in the list:
    1. Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar by Ravi Shankar. I just love Ravi, the father of world music and what a wonderful life he has led -reading this book right now, which was very difficult to find, and should be done in 10 days. This is a great book and I think I’ll read it again.
    2. Richard Branson – Losing my Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way (a true role model of mine and one who inspires me no end) – Have read the book twice, and he has often landed on many secluded islands because of his hot air baloon trips.
    3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins – For anyone interested in opening a company and making it grow.
    4. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – This is no ordinary book and talks about a great concept – that we all believe that ‘more order exists in this chaotic universe that actually does’ – and by understanding the improbable we can often achieve the impossible.
    5. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda – Pt. Ravi Shankar recommended it so I bought it – it even changed George Harrison of the Beatles and made him a life-long collborator of Ravi’s – a very difficult book to read but brings you closer to India of the first half of the 20th century, which according to me was very interesting.
    6. Maximum City by Suketu Mehta – for anyone who loves Mumbai – I liked it and found the writing extremely honest and audacious, so full marks to him.
    Thanks for you list I hope I can get to the Greenspan book from your list soon.
    Best Regards,

  2. Hiya Shekhar…
    Read books in school…library…after that never did really read books….
    My flights of thoughts would go beyond…and i was permitted to read staff books…
    lost sight of all that i read
    but there was one
    beulah Land
    Where i understood aparthy and love of a slave…
    Was told by my teacher who was an excellent boozard…anglo!!
    The more he drank the better he taught!! Yes he would teach in that state…the school permitted as we could see no other teacher as excellent as him…he’s dead now, slipped in a drunken state and died…
    he said…my dear…you are capable of many things beyond normal Indian children..(Knowing i was from a very restricted family background)
    he said do anything in life never try poetry…as once i wrote for the school magazine and he mocked at me….and said you cant be waht you are not!!
    I felt how someone could determine someones destiny…
    Hence i left reading books….my own destiny became a book…and I loved it!!

  3. hey sonya
    interesting list
    ’twas mentioned that you run a book reading club in mumbai… perhaps you’d like to share some details for ppl who’d like to be a part of it…

  4. I like your list Sonya, and it’s a good idea to have some omnibus instead of just one work! Also, some of your selection seems to presume that you will one day not be on the island but back in the wider world, eg Greenspan. The only omission I could see was that there were no books on “Surviving on a desert Island” or “Boat Building for Dummies” 🙂
    My list:
    1. Siddartha, by Hermann Hesse
    2. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
    3. Tales of the Punjab, Flora Annie Steel
    4. Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathon Swift
    5. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel DeFoe
    6. The complete Shakespeare
    7. The Earnest Hemingway omnibus
    8. The William Faulkner omnibus
    9. The James Joyce omnibus
    10. The Gabriel Garcia Marquez omnibus. Or Dickens. Or…

  5. how about……….
    1) notes to myself hugh prather
    2) the monk who sold his ferrari robin sharma
    3) only love is real
    4) many lives many masters
    both by dr brian weiss
    5) the end of the affair by graham greene
    i could never omit the chicken soup for the soul collections !
    among my collection of unread so far books are :
    1) of love and other demons gabriel garcia marquez
    2) the general in his labrinth ( ” ” )
    3) laughable loves milan kundera
    i have yet to read these among some others that are lining my shelf at the moment 🙂 !

  6. In no order, I’d take the following
    -The Worst Case Scenario Survival Book
    -The world’s funniest jokebook
    -The english translation of all world’s main religious books (Guru Granth Sahib, the bible (old and new testaments), Koran, Bhagavad Gita, something by Confucius, etc) Coz I’ll have time to get it all down.
    – A very large journal to put my own thoughts and sketches in
    – “French, Arabic, and Spanish for dummies” books (I’ve been meaning to learn a bunch for a while)
    -A compilation of all the People’s “sexiest men alive” issues.
    -A compilation copy of all my mom’s letters from my lifetime.
    -How to build something out of nothing or McGyver’s Handbook (if that book exists).
    -A compilation of all the “amar chitra katha”s
    I think that’s about it.

  7. The time of reading, knowing and doing is really on its last legs now.
    The coming time will be of experiencing, understanding and being.
    Here is an interesting relevant paragraph from my recently published book Self-Designed Universe:
    To show that our ongoing period is indeed going beyond thought, beyond reason, or is entering the Age of Intelligence or Intuition, I would just quote from a stray article in a local newspaper which I read only yesterday.
    The article is named “I think, therefore I am not” and is written by one Adil Jussawalia in the paper ‘The Tribune’ of northern India. It reads inter-alia:
    “The climate all over the country – perhaps all over the world, I really dont know – is anti-intellectual, anti-thought. Which, perhaps, is one good reason to account for the mess it is in.”
    Though the writer here calls this era anti-intellectual, anti-thought, according to me it is transcending intellect, transcending thought. From our ongoing discussion of the development of anything, any system, any culture according to four basic interactions, it would be clear that our present culture was bound to be in its present state because of these interactions, because of its passage from the strong interactions era where intellectual activity was to be its hallmark to the weak interaction era , where as already explained, to be is going to be its motto rather than to know, rather than intellectual activity.
    The present mess is because of the transitional period. It would stand cleared once we are well established in the weak interactions era. We are sure our Age then would be known not only as the Age of Intelligence or Intuition but as the Golden Age of the global culture as well.

  8. Thanks, all, for your lists.
    Himanshu : that’s a great list, much thought provoking non-fiction. Read, if you enjoyed The Black Swan, a book called The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.
    James : I do agree its kind-a glaring , no survive on the island kind of books. My secret wish to be out of it all and slothfully sunk in print ! Life of Pi what a book ! and on an island ..
    DQ : so true , a stray comment can steer you away from writing. But do try reading
    Pragzz : inspiring list ; and you will, after reading all the philosophy and speaking all the languages , certainly have your pick of People magazines poster boys !
    JD : the book reading club, it’s listed in Timeout Mumbai, in the Books section ; it’s an ‘All Readers Welcome’ kind of thing.

  9. hi shekhar !
    what an interesting topic you chose ……books !
    but what a HUGE oversight……..! where is YOUR list……? after all…….that is something we could have shared ……and really had a peep at where we come from……..the books we read and enjoy reflect on our choice of thoughts, is’nt it ?
    since we are on your blog…….your choice would be a priority……:)……..noone here would say no to that ?

  10. ok, i have a confession, i have a problem reading – always had throughout my life – I cannot get beyond 3 pages witout my mind wandering – is it ADD ? Is it some other problem ? I am not sure – but there it is. So I am really the worst person in the world to talk about books, Shekhar

  11. 1. How green was my valley. This has suddenly jumped up to the top of my list. A 1939 classic about growing up in a Welsh coal-mining village, it’s a relaxing read, very sentimental. Do not watch the movie first!
    2. Grapes of Wrath. A Pullitzer prize winner, it talks about poverty and even more, dispossession, in an unforgettable way. Do not watch the movie first!
    3. To kill a mocking bird. DO watch the movie. This was a movie, as wonderful as the book. Addresses white against black racism in a way that’s fundamental, and still relevant around the world today, even to other races. Particularly important today as race relations are so discussed, with Obama’s candidacy for U.S President a certainty now.
    4. Every single P.G.Wodehouse I could carry, would go to the desert island with me. The reasons are obvious. I won’t insult anyone with any further an explanation.
    5. Every Dr.Suess book I could carry, as well. One day I plan to explain to people, maybe in a class (as it would require a long time commitment to discuss this), why this is the most important author of all times :). I really “get” Dr.Suess, I mean, I don’t get people who don’t get him. I am very confused by people who criticise him. I LOVE Dr.Suess. He makes life more wonderful.
    6. I inherited the Kamala Subramaniam book on the Mahabharata from my grand father. It’s unending soap opera. Entertaining. Probably not uplifting, but great soap.
    I think I ought to stop now. I could go on forever. Now is as good a time as any to end this list!!
    This was stream of consciousness writing, no editing – forgive the many possible typos!

  12. Knowing you through your blog…I am sure you and your readers will love Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.
    Happy Reading

  13. Hi Sonya,
    I am tired of being toilet paper. Hopefully, in our lifetime, we can rise above and be…*thinking of something witty here and it is failing me*…
    Something in the middle…
    I like, Alice Walker. A lot. And, bell hooks. And surprisingly, Ernest Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast.”
    Actually, if I was alone, I am very happy to be by myself. My mind can replay all things and keep me endlessly fascinated. But I would miss talking to people.
    I need as much time alone as I do with people, or I feel unbalanced.
    I need to look up omnibus, because I don’t know what that means. I wonder if it’s like a mind transportation device. Ha!

  14. hmmm………..i am truly surprised by your revelation ! somehow, i thought books would have played an integral role in your life.
    i know some people who are out n out materialistic, who have the ‘world’s best collections’, bound ultra fancy,occupying pride of place ( which takes up an entire room in their homes )……..who have not read a page from any of that priceless collection ! those books are there for impressing visitors……..
    in your case……..i thought there must be a whole lot of books that would hold a special place…….revealing a well worn look ( for having been thumbed through by you over a lifetime ! )………much like quality leather that never withers with time but becomes more dear……..
    you have an intellectual aura…….( one that got there minus books…….:) ??

  15. Dear Shekhar,
    That’s a very honest confession and I was pretty much like that before I went to America 9 yrs back and then saw so many people reading. I still read very slowly and my mind wanders but I have found a solution – I read each book like a text book, like an assignment, with a pencil in one hand and write notes on the side and underline lines. Next day I’ll see my notes in the last few pages to see where I was, but in the end the book is read exaustively and stays in my mind forever. As I mainly read non-fiction, it as such can’t be read very fast, so the slow techinique of reading as if one is being educated on every page works best for me.
    I think seeing my fellow business school students in America read so much got me started and I soon realized that inspite of being an outdoor person this is the best way to utilize my idle time at home. Plus in Michigan where it was -20C outside and we had such a big and pretty 24 hr library with big glass windows from which you can see snow falling outside, a great starbuks inside the library. So you sip your coffee and read brand new books on comfortable chairs and shiny big wood tables while staring at the snow falling outside, it is just perfect. It is also the perfect place to meet pretty women who are the intelligent kind so that is an added bonus.
    Best Regards,

  16. Little Women is my all time fav !
    Hundred Years of Solitute by Marquez
    Anna Karniena by Gorky
    Mother By Maxim Groky
    The Nanny – one of the short stories by Chekov
    …so many others, I am grateful to my high school grammer teacher Rathan, who introduced me to this wonderful habit of reading.
    Can we also list fav movies of all time? That would interesting to share.

  17. Shekhar,
    My husband is brilliant, very intellectual, loves to debate everything, and is deeeeeep. However, he doesn’t enjoy reading. I share the occasional line I read that moves me, with him, but it makes our marriage more interesting that we’re so different in this area. I wouldn’t want to be married to myself – I mean, I like that he’s different from me so I can learn from him.
    Also, like you obviously would be with all your achievements, my husband is very secure about himself and who he is. He’d have no trouble saying he didn’t particularly read very much.
    Also, some people are more visual, and enjoy watching great movies…and some enjoy listening to books on audio. One formula doesn’t work for everyone, whatsoever.
    It’s so amazing to have this link to a famous intellectual, and actually be able to communicate with you!
    This’s just a response to your comment meant for you… please don’t publish it on your blog!!!

  18. hi shekhar. its nice to be back, have been on a three week break in north america: there have been so many posts i need to catch up with.
    i note what you say about you not being able to read beyond 3 pages. surprising since you write so well. all great writers have been avid readers.
    i like what himanshu says about assigning time to a book. i do the same and that is why i like book clubs as you have to finish them. in fact, if you thimk about it almost all thngs that need to be finished have to be assigned a time, so why not with books.
    i like the lists and esp the fact that mahabharat featured first. now that is an epic and has so many answers that people spend their lifetime in discovering. not to forget that the geeta is part of it.
    any reading list would be incomplete without shakespeare…
    my absolute favourite are jane eyre, wuthering heights and the god of small things.
    was reading ‘shantaram’ on my trip. very recommendable. apparently mira nair is making a film with bachchan and depp.
    love, shivani
    (nice to be back, not related to this blog but can i just add that america shocked me: the country with so much hype, consumerism and where everything is done to make a statement: even reading books. i wish they could talk less and read more).

  19. My list would – well, have to really think about it – but would definitely have Mahabharata on it. Also the complete works of Shakespeare. Maybe a PG Wodehouse omnibus…

  20. Shekhar – perhaps it’s just your retless spirit? Your own mind and your own stories that is too distracting from another author’s book. Plus, you are obviously a very visual person, so I can imagine you could easily get swept up into your mind’s eye, visualizing the story in greater detail than most of us would.
    Have you tried audio books, eg on CD or tape or download? It’s a great way to absorb novels, especially while traveling, and they’re read by good voice actors.

  21. Cool list for a Desert island.
    Mine would include
    Leo Tolstoy – collection
    O’Henry – short stories
    Leon Uris – all of his works
    R.K. Narayan – entire collection
    Poetry Collection by – Robert Frost, Sarojini Naidu, Tagore, Rumi
    And of course Calvin and Hobbes.

  22. sorry for off the topic….
    hey…everyone can write their own biography thats not read by anyone else….
    the book of life!
    after some time, you will be shocked to know what you’ve written…
    know thyself!

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