Love Me, Love These Books
My Desert Isle Keepers

By Carla Kelly

My daughter Mary Ruth is unmarried and not looking too hard (“Mom, are all men dense and stuck on themselves?” “No, dear, just most. Keep looking.”), but she has a litmus test for guys which includes opera. (“Love me, love La Boheme.”) I can relate to this, but with me it’s Don Giovanni. My litmus test includes books, which I adore a little more than opera. Love me, love these books. To me, this is what is meant by Desert Isle Keeper.

I can’t narrow it down less than four and the heirarchy tends to change, so I present these in no particular order. I’m a historian, rather than a mathematician so you will add up a little more than four, but there is an interrelatedness.

War and Peace. I read this during a long Wyoming winter some years ago and to use a Regency phrase, it certainly “cut up my peace,” for some time. I read Tolstory’s magnificent work and yearned, positively yearned, to read it in Russian so I wouldn’t miss a single nuance. For several years after War and Peace, I read other books, only to sigh in dissatisfaction and utter the mantra, “It was OK, but it wasn’t War and Peace“.

What is the magic of this work? It lies in the characters, and how they change and grow, suffer and survive. Mother Russia is a character, too, with its own share of suffering and surviving. Truth resounds through War and Peace, as it should through any good fiction. Be true when you write.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. Pride and Prejudice is another gem of writing, and the secret here is the characters too. Why do we care so much about the Bennet sisters? Because we see their hopes and disappointments, ecccentricities and foibles as our own exposed to the world, and still we hope. Jane Austen understood this. While Emma may be the greater book, I love the Bennets most of all, in spite of – or possibly because of – their faults that make them fully human in the world of letters.

Owen Johnson’s The Lawrenceville Stories warms my heart. On a bad day, I can just pick up the book and feel better. It is a 1910 collection of stories about life in a well-known New Jersey prep school. The language is stately, the boys by turns are naive and incorrigible, and utterly real. Who could not love “The Prodigious Hickey” who plays so many pranks? And who couldn’t also love the headmaster, who reluctantly tells Hickey that they must part company. “There is no reason, there can be no reason, Hicks.” We’re just naturally going to make up our minds to part with you”. And so on. Johnson’s Stover At Yale, has my heart as well, with its story of honor, loyalty to friends, and secret societies. I love the elegant language from the Victorian age, and I miss the honor and character that seems to be so lacking in our own age. The Lawrenceville Stories reminds me that was a better time. It might be my favorite book.

There is no better read than Nevile Shute’s A Town Like Alice. It contains no message beyond “Love is constant”, and that may be the best message of all. If you are not acquainted with this tale of prisoners of war in Malaya, and their search for each other at war’s end, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

As a writer, I am most captured by the seamless way Shute weaves his narrative together. The first-person tale told by a solicitor morphs without a glitch into the third-person story of Jean Paget, an English girl who, even in the desperate circumstances of war, wants to make things as good as they can be. So much of the story is told as a flashback, which can be deadly indeed in the hands of a novice writer, which Shute is not. The shift in point of view enables this multi-level story to be told from all angles, which increases its effectiveness. Besides all that, it’s just a cracking good story.

I know, I know, I’m ‘way over my limit, but Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet moves back and forth in time and tense and is a good set of novels for a writer to learn from. I recommend these as well. (LLB: The Raj Quartet is comprised of these four titles:

  • The Jewel in the Crown
  • The Day of the Scorpion
  • The Towers of Silence
  • A Division of the Spoils)

But most of all, I would say read widely. Don’t confine yourself to one genre or one author. Branch out and taste it all, and be thankful this holiday season for the gift of reading, and the wonder that comes with exploring the inside of your head.

Order War & Peace from Amazon BooksOrder Pride & Prejudice from Amazon BooksOrder The Lawrenceville Stories from Amazon BooksOrder A Town Like Alice from Amazon BooksOrder The Jewel in the Crown from Amazon BooksOrder The Day of the Scorpion from Amazon BooksOrder The Towers of Silence from Amazon BooksOrder A Division of the Spoils from Amazon BooksRead our interview with Carla Kelly and find links to herIf you have any comments about this reviewIf you are interested in writing a review of your all-time favorite romance