The 10 Books Readers Said They'd Want Most If They Were Stranded On A Desert Island

by E. Ce Miller

It’s the kind of question that comes up in late-night summer camp convos, during those dreaded “getting to know you” icebreaking games, and in the midst of dinner party conversational lulls: if you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you most want by your side? It’s a question book-lovers seem to get asked more than anybody else — a more creative iteration of questions like: “what’s your favorite book?” or “what should I read next?”. And yeah, it’s impossible to answer.

Or, is it? Scour the internet and you’ll not only find thousands of readers asking and answering that exact question, you’ll also notice that the same books keep coming up over and over again. And sure, while survival guides like How To Escape A Deserted Island For Dummies (note: not a real book) and How to Build Your Own Boat from Scratch (a real book, by John E. Traister) often garner the most mentions, it’s the novels and other texts that readers select over and over again that I find the most interesting. (And, also, guides for escaping the deserted island don’t exactly count.) As it turns out, if stranded on a deserted island, most of us would have the same books in our suitcases.

These are the 10 most common books readers say they would want, if stranded on a deserted island. Bon voyage. Don’t forget your volleyball.

And P.S.: to all the readers who mentioned their Kindles (and there were many of you) not only is that definitely cheating, but I would seriously love to know where you envision plugging those bad boys in... just sayin'.

'Ulysses' by James Joyce

Ulysses by James Joyce was by far the most mentioned book by readers (at least, in all the forums I was perusing.) Not only is Ulysses very long, and very dense, and filled with all sorts of literary gymnastics that’ll keep your mind busy re-read after re-read, The Guardian has called Ulysses the hardest novel to both read and finish. Maybe that's why it's the perfect read to assuage your deserted island desperation.

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'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe

Not surprisingly, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is another title that appears frequently in readers’ deserted island TBR piles. An eighteenth century novel about a castaway who spends almost three decades in the remote tropics, Robinson Crusoe is perfect for any reader seeking a little deserted island empathy.

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'The Divine Comedy' by Dante Alighieri

This was a dreaded title on my high school required reading list, so I’m surprised to find it on so many readers’ deserted island must-have lists. For those who might not remember (or who totally blew off their 11th grade English assignments) The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri is an epic poem about one man’s journey through hell… so not exactly the uplifting tale of inspiration you might need when stranded in complete isolation. But stranded readers want what stranded readers want.

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The Bible (and other religious texts)

While the Bible was the most-often mentioned religious text that readers would like on hand whilst stranded in the middle of nowhere, the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita were also mentioned often as well. I guess few things ask you to contemplate your faith like facing a life spent in remote solitude. Plus, religious texts will keep you in short stories for years.

'Infinite Jest' by David Foster Wallace

This one, I',m guessing, comes up so frequently because it is 1,079 pages long. Nothing against Infinite Jest, but if you’re looking for sheer literary enjoyment, David Foster Wallace’s short stories and nonfiction will get you a lot further, IMO.

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'Outlander' by Diana Gabaldon

Romance, history, time travel, adventure, fantasy — it’s no wonder so many readers think of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander when imagining the book they’ll be reading under those deserted island palm trees. Plus, at a whopping 640 pages, you won’t be finishing this one too quickly.

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'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare' by William Shakespeare

Since you can technically find The Complete Works of William Shakespeare in a single volume, this one totally counts. (But all you Shakespeare lovers totally lucked out.) Filled with romance, tragedy, comedy, and more, Shakespeare’s plays might just be the ultimate deserted island must-have. At least as far as book lovers are concerned.

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'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

While all of Jane Austen’s titles garnered numerous mentions (as did The Complete Works of Jane Austen) Pride and Prejudice was by far the most desired Austen title. This one would definitely find its way into my own deserted island luggage.

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'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker was mentioned more than a few times (including in this article about the 10 books iconic feminist Gloria Steinem would bring to a desert island.) The Pulitzer Prize-winning epistolary novel is one readers can definitely see themselves reading over and over again; and though it would hardly be considered a feel-good read, it’s one that is filled with all kinds of power and redemption — perfect for when you need the inspiration to overcome.

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'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' by J.K. Rowling

While nearly every Harry Potter novel was mentioned (and the Harry Potter series boxed set most often — although that definitely counts as seven books, not one) J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was mentioned more often than all the other Harry Potter titles put together. Interesting, huh? Can any Potterhead explain to me why this might be?

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