by Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam BarryDecember 2009
Booksellers choose their favorite reading for castaways
Once again the holidays are upon us, and if you’re anything like us, this means you need ideas for last-minute shopping. Each year we try to help by asking for gift book suggestions from some of our favorite authors. This year we decided to switch up a little and ask some of our favorite independent booksellers, plus one fabulous librarian, for their recommendations.
The theme is from a classic dinner party parlor game: if you were stuck on a desert island and had to choose just one book to keep you company, what would it be?
Megan Zabel (Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon) loves Lamb by Christopher Moore. “Sure, some of the humor might be teetering on juvenile (a variety I’ve been known to wholeheartedly embrace), but this hilarious adventure story paired with Moore’s overarching message of hope knocked me off my feet. If I’m going to be trapped on a desert island, I could probably use some hope—and some juvenile humor. (Besides, who will be on the island to judge?) Somehow, through all the brouhaha, Moore manages to make more sense of the Bible than I got out of 12 years of Lutheran school, and does it in a non-polarizing way that appeals to people of all faiths—or those who have none. I’ve been wholeheartedly recommending this book for years.”
Elaine Petrocelli (Book Passage in Corte Madera and San Francisco, California) says, “If I was on a desert island, I’d dream of being somewhere else. I’d want A Writer’s World by the great Jan Morris. With this enticing book I could travel to Everest, the Middle East, South Africa, the Caribbean, South America, all over Europe, China, Canada, Sydney and even the U.S. I could pretend I was walking in a deserted calle in Venice on a cold February night instead of sweating on that hot island. I could get the news (in 1953) that Everest had at last been climbed. I could go to the opera in Odessa. And like Morris, I could be seduced by Rio de Janeiro. I wouldn’t want to be rescued until I got to read all 464 pages at least a couple of times.”
Bill Petrocelli (also from Book Passage) says, “Stuck on a desert island? What kind of a premise is that? If I took a favorite book I’d already read, I’d be bored out of my mind in about an hour! I would need something big like Winston Churchill’s The Second World War (6 volumes) or Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (12 volumes!) to keep me from going nuts. On the other hand, those things are so voluminous they would probably sink with my suitcase after the plane crashed (that’s how I got to the island, I suppose), so I might end up with nothing to read at all. So I’ll settle for the two-volume Anderson & Zinsser’s A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present. At a combined 876 pages, that ought to keep me busy until the rescue team arrives. And, as a guy, I’m sure I’d find lots of things in those two volumes that I should have known—but really didn’t. However, there’s only one problem: some doofus at Harper let that book go out of print [ed: though it’s still available from Oxford University Press]. Sheesh! Maybe I’ll just take my iPod.”
Marcia Schneider (San Francisco Public Library) says, “Ahh . . . The complete works of Jane Austen. Another time, another place, but still the same human foibles of love, regret, misunderstanding, jealousy, hypocrisy, humility, self-importance and more. How could someone so young write with such understanding, all in elegant, compact and highly accessible prose? A delicious treat that would provide excellent company and keep me entertained for a long time.”
Tricia Lightweis (Booksmith in Seneca, South Carolina) tells us: “I would not be stuck on a desert island without the book You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love and Satomi Ichikawa. This book comes as close as anything I have ever read to describing the great love between a parent and child. Its beauty is in its simplicity. I sell many copies to adults as gifts for their adult children as well as to parents of young children. I’ve yet to see a customer read it without sentimental tears. And I’ve yet to discuss its beauty without those same sentimental drops myself. Each of my four adult children has a personal copy inscribed with a handwritten love letter from both my husband and myself.”
Mitchell Kaplan (Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida) checks in: “For me it would have to be Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel that I was supposed to read for maybe a half dozen different classes and never got all the way through. I’m pretty sure it would keep me occupied for a great deal of time before my rescue.”
Calvin Crosby (Books, Inc. in Berkeley, California) loves Julia Glass. “Being stranded on a desert island with Three Junes (or either of her other two books) would be awesome. Her work is so character-driven and casts big enough that you would never be lonely, as you learn more about each character every time you read the book.”
Kathy Patrick (Beauty and the Book in Jefferson, Texas, and founder of the Pulpwood Queens book club) says, “That’s easy: my favorite book of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I re-read it every year, sometimes twice, and I still find nuances that I had never picked up on before after each read. It’s my great ‘fiction’ bible. I know that is probably a given but the only other book I would choose would be the NLT Study Bible, which I am reading at this time. And I might add, I would not want the e-reader version; I would want the real book.”
Kathleen Caldwell (A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, California) has a similar choice. “My desert island book would have to be Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; I read it at least once a year and every time I read the last sentence I feel a little sad that it’s over. It’s both a celebration of friendship and an affirmation of life going on.”
Craig Shafer (Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colorado) would choose “Don Quixote (Edith Grossman, translator). It has been sitting on my shelf since it came out and at 940 pages it would keep me occupied for a while.”
We want to thank all these independent thinkers for their ideas. Remember to support libraries and independent bookstores—without them, many of our favorite authors would never have been published. Let’s not leave all our book choices in the hands of a few conglomerates!
In a strange, coincidental twist of circumstance (nudge, wink), Sam chose And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You by Kathi Kamen Goldmark, “a charming, sunny, well-told story,” as his desert island selection, while Kathi chose How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons by Sam Barry, “a great gift for aspiring harmonica players.” Email your questions about writing and publishing to AuthorEnabler@aol.com.