Bookseller One Grand Books has asked literary celebrities to name the ten titles they’d take to a desert island, and they’ve shared the results with Vulture. Below is the list from author Tom Perrotta.
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
I first read this in college, expecting a dusty 500-year-old classic. The joke was on me, literally. This book, one of the first true novels, remains fresh and hilarious to this day, an earthy and poignant delight.
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I hated this in high school, because I was young and couldn’t see myself or my world in the story of Hester Prynne. But then I reread it a few years ago, and realized that it contained a blueprint for the sexual revolution, the eternal clash between unruly desire and oppressive social convention. It’s all right here.
Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
Only a few works of fiction can reasonably be called “perfect,” and this is one of them. There’s a crystalline purity to the prose, and a wintry sadness in the story. It gets deep in your bones.
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
A strange and beautiful book about the lonely souls and thwarted dreamers who inhabit a small Ohio town. There’s no sentimentality in Anderson’s vision, no nostalgia for Middle America in a simpler time. Winesburg is a place where people are doomed to remain a mystery to their neighbors, and even to themselves.
The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, by Flannery O’Connor
A friend of mine turned me on to O’Connor in high school, and I’ve been reading her ever since, constantly amazed at her bold vision and wicked sense of humor. She’s one of the few writers I know who make religion seem like a radical challenge, rather than a source of comfort.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
Is there a more American book than this bitter indictment of America? It’s a kind of Horatio Alger story, a small-time pimp and hustler educating himself in prison, undergoing a religious conversion, and reinventing himself as a fearless truth-teller and political firebrand. Malcolm’s voice is alive on the page from the very first sentence.
Last Train to Memphis, by Peter Guralnick
Forget rock and roll, this is one of the greatest biographies I’ve ever read on any subject. Guralnick makes us feel Elvis Presley’s dizzying rise to superstardom as the unprecedented cultural phenomenon it was — Elvis didn’t know what he was trying to be, because nothing like Elvis had ever existed before.
The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi
Levi is best known for his unflinching Holocaust memoirs, but this is a sunnier work, the autobiography of a chemist, narrated in a humane and sometimes lighthearted voice. There’s a deep love for the physical world in these pages, and an infectious sense of wonder.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
This harrowing account of life in a slum near the Mumbai airport is a kind of literary miracle. Boo captures the texture of the place, and the hopes and struggles of its residents, with an intimacy that a novelist can only envy.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Roz Chast is always funny, but this graphic memoir about caring for her aging parents is also raw, brutally honest, and heartbreaking. It’s an unsparing portrait of decline, but also a loving act of witness; it tells the truth without sugar-coating or looking away.