So, yeah, I’m on a desert island, can only have ten books. A strange, impractical set-up—that the dungeon master here can assume I’d grab a round number of books instead of a two-way radio or a knife—but so be it. I’m there. I can only have ten books. Which is a lot like punishment, but, too, is a lot better than just nine books. Here goes:
1.Don Quixote. Not because it’s a classic and not because it’s on the required reading lists and not because it was the first real novel, any of that. I’d have it with me just because it’s good. Because I still think often of the way Dulcinea’s world must have reordered itself just a little, when she ceased being a princess. Because Don Quixote is able to preserve that romantic idealism most of us lose in the process of growing up. For him the world’s a magical place. I envy him that.
2.Catch-22. Because it feels like this great, blundering accident that just happens to work. Because it seems to be less interested in the grand sweep of things, more concerned with the comical little nothings that make up a life, that make up living. Because when a journalist supposedly said to Heller that he’d never written anything to compare with Catch-22, had he? Heller told her back that neither had anybody else. He was right.
3.White Hotel. Because it’s structured exactly like our minds are structured, I think. We wrap the horror in story after story after story. But sometimes those layers get peeled back.
4.Deliverance. It’s what I read to remind myself that I’m a hack, that I’m just fumbling around out here in the dark, letting words slip through my fingers.
5.Valis. Because each time I read it, I identify with Horselover Fat, and then Horselover Fat becomes Philip K. Dick and I lose my bearings, start seeing the pink light myself, and sit around for days waiting for that knock on the door, that disinhibiting symbol that’s going to wedge open a crack in reality that, maybe, I’ll be able to see through. A little.
6.The Virgin Suicides. Because in that plural narrator I can hear my own voice.
7.Love Medicine. Not because it does things with dramatic irony most writers will never understand, and not because I’m feeding on that instant nostalgia a generational novel tends to amass, but because a girl named June Morrissey walked off into the snow of North Dakota one Easter, and made it home.
8.American Psycho. Because, like Red Badge of Courage and Luigi Meneghello’s The Outlaws, it makes me feel a lot less alone in the world.
9.The Crying of Lot 49. Yeah, it may be a short story with a glandular problem, but I still draw little bugles everywhere. Of House of Leaves, Jonathan Lethem said he was trapped in the web of it. That’s how Crying of Lot 49 leaves me.
10.Ghost Town. The single most irreverent book I’ve ever read. I laugh just thinking about it, and, like I’m sure Coover intends, I’m of course laughing at myself.
So, yeah, where’s Ender’s Game, where’s Moby Dick, where’s The Sirens of Titan or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or John Barth’s The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor? What of Fowles’ second edition of The Magus, possibly the best example of the novel we have, so good that Straub had to use it nearly scene for scene as a template for Shadowlands? And Cryptonomicon, and The Damnation Game, and The Shining, and Solaris, Ubik, The Things They Carried, Winter in the Blood, The Illuminatus! trilogy, Infinite Jest, and, and—Confederacy of Dunces? I mean, that may be the single best-written scene ever, when Ignatius O’Reilly’s trying to explain having stuffed a cat into one of the condiment bins of his hot dog cart.
Too, no clue why I don’t have The Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns or The Maxx or any Grendels with me on this ridiculous island. I really wouldn’t make it long without a graphic novel.
But then the island’s just a game, of course, and I’m just trying to sneak in more titles.
While we’re playing, though, maybe I get a handful of DVDs, yeah? For my battery powered sand ’n surf television set. Or, they’d probably just float in—the cellophane wrappers would have trapped enough air in the plastic cases that I’d wake one morning to the first ten movies I would have picked anyway:
9.The Usual Suspects
The bootlegs that would float up from the wrecked plane, then, would of course be Princess Mononoke and Se7en and Hoosiers and Grease and Footloose and Princess Bride and The Holy Grail and Run Lola Run and Ravenous and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, maybe a little Smokey and the Bandit or Wait Until Dark or Deathtrap, maybe even something light-hearted like Election, Death and the Maiden, Tombstone. Ideally, of course, there’d be a new and neverheard-of adaptation of Whitley Strieber’s The Wolfen, or maybe some of McCammon’s werewolf stuff. In the meantime, though, I’d just make do with a miraculously-preserved VHS of that X-Files episode that takes place on the fictional ‘Trigo’ Indian Reservation. Which is of course where I got the ‘Trego’ from for my first novel. Because things bleed into each other.
Recorded after that werewolf episode, of course, would be the Jose Chung X-Files. At SP, hopefully. Because I’ll watch it over and over and over.