I am being exiled to a desert island. I can take along the complete works of only ten fiction writers. (As a bonus, I can take along any non-fiction books they wrote as well.) Who should I take?
For me this turned out to be a fairly easy exercise. I had only a couple tough choices to make. For the most part I really knew who I wanted. Here they are, in alphabetical order, with a few honorable mentions at the end–the ones who were squeezed out by the hard reality of the number ten.
1/Jane Austen (1775-1817). English. Begin with Pride and Prejudice, which may be her most sparkling work, but she wrote five other novels. A genius. She is very clever, yes, but also she gives us hope that there can be more than chaos in the world, that there can be a sane, Christian, mature, thoughtful way to live.
2/Charles Dickens (1812-1870). English. David Copperfield is deservedly famous, but he wrote a lot of great books. The Old Curiosity Shop was my entry into his longer novels. That turned out to be a perfect place to start for me.
3/Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). Russian. Crime and Punishment is a strong candidate for the best novel ever written, but he wrote many valuable books.
4/W.W. Jacobs (1863-1943). English humorist wrote a lot of short stories and a handful of novels. Many Cargoes, a book of short stories, is a good place to start.
5/C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). English. My first father in the faith. His Space Trilogy is a good place to start. So are the seven volumes of the Chronicles of Narnia, which are for children but excellent for adults as well.
6/Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn 1918-2008). Russian. The Cancer Ward is one among many excellent works of fiction. Also a superb non-fiction writer, with The Gulag Archipelago heading the list.
7/Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). English. Prolific. The Eustace Diamonds will let you know if you are going to like his stuff or not.
8/Mark Twain (1835-1910). United States. Lots more good writing beyond The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are examples. Tom Sawyer Abroad may be the most perfect novel of humor ever written.
9/P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975). English humorist. Wrote a lot, with varying quality, but his best writing is hard to beat. The Jeeves/Wooster novels and short stories are my favorites. The Code of the Woosters might be a good entry into his work.
10/Zack/Gwendoline Keats (1865-?). Who? Forgotten English novelist and short story writer deserves to be rediscovered. Her first book, Life Is Life: And Other Tales and Episodes, is the one I always recommend as a start. Warning: heavy Devon dialect in some of the stories. But a large handful of these stories are among the best ever written. That’s my opinion, of course. I have written a book about her writing, which includes as much as I can find out about her life: By Noble Things She Stands: The Fiction of Gwendoline Keats/Zack.
The tough choices were in regard to Jacobs and Wodehouse. Did I really want to take along their books, and leave someone like Leo Tolstoy behind? I did. There will be some gloomy days on my desert island, and Jacobs and Wodehouse will cheer me up. There are always trade-offs.
I go into greater depth on these ten writers in Chapter 16 of my forthcoming book, The Way to Do a Thing Is to Do It: Essays. Expected date of publication: late 2016 or early 2017.
Here are a few honorable mentions: Anne Bronte, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, J. D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy. There are lots of other good writers, of course.
Which ten fiction writers will you be taking with you, if/when you are exiled?