Desert Island Books – Round Two

Back in January I asked you to answer the question: If you could only take a backpack full, what books would you take to a desert island?  

I got quite a few responses, most of them within days of my posing the question.  

Just about everyone who submitted a list was interested in seeing what other people suggested.  

And since January, I’ve seen, talked to or received emails from quite a few of you who promised that you were “going to get that book list out.”  

Well, now’s the time.  

I finally got the original responses posted, and I’m ready to add to those lists.  

The Desert Island Book List is at: 

If you’d like to add your suggestions to it please email them to me at: 

Our current book inventories are at: Doug: (she just read through about a dozen books and is very low on inventory) 

PS – The original email follows. My friend, Lee Wochner, who I reference in the email, posted a very tongue-in-cheek response to that message on his blog at: And I agree with Lee’s recollection, his list was created in response to my request for a Cliff’s Notes version of an English Lit degree. But I stand by my version of his response to the garage sale… 


From: Douglas Hackney []
Sent: Monday, January 15, 2007 2:25 PM
Cc: Douglas Hackney
Subject: your desert island books

Hello to all,  

Back when we were planning to go out via sailboat, I asked a well read friend of ours, Lee Wochner, to give me a list of his “take to the desert island” books. I expected him to spend a few minutes banging out his top-of-the-head top ten list and leave it at that. But to Lee, books are the essential currency of our humanness, the primary record of our civilization and any personal list of favorites to be the ultimate opening of the kimono – the baring of the ultimate soul – the absolute and total revelation of who you are as a person.  

Most people today would feel that way about recommending their top 10 rental DVDs or best episodes of Friends or favorite American Idol competitor. Books, and reading, have slid from their place of honor in American culture, as a quick glance at literacy rates and market share & revenue numbers for publishers & newspapers will reveal.  

I used to feel just as strongly about books as Lee does. Everywhere I ever lived I dragged every book around I’d ever owned, except for the complete collection of original 1st edition Ian Fleming James Bond paperbacks I’d received from my uncle Doug and loaned to Jay Buckles in 1974 and never got back and my large format anniversary edition Harold Head comic book that disappeared into Dan Norenberg’s Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon in 1976 and never returned. Not that I’m resentful and have a hard time letting go or anything.  

My woodworking project in high school was a bookshelf. I dragged that around too, and showcased prized books in feature locations around my room, and later, houses. Although many things you wore, watched or discussed reflected who you were, I always believed that nothing told your story like your books. Whenever I visited someone who was a reader, who had books around their place, I always took a long, lingering trip to the bathroom and spent as much time as possible scanning their shelves to a) see if I recognized anything I’d read that validated my existence and provided a connection and b) see what I hadn’t read that defined my gaps and the differences between us.  

My first big purge of books was when we moved to California. I sold the bottom layers of my library at our garage sale in Hudson, WI. I had them all laid out on our cargo trailer, which they filled mostly two deep, spines up. After the sale I pulled the trailer down to our used book store in town to sell a few of the remainder to the owner, then took the rest to the local retirement home and hospital for their libraries. It was a traumatic experience. I haven’t forgotten that either, and have spent the intervening six and half years fine tuning a long, complex and very tenuous logic chain that makes my wife entirely responsible. Not that I hold on to things like that or anything.  

When I told Lee about the garage sale his expression clouded and he looked at me like a traitor to the cause of literacy and higher thought. The sale, the abandonment of books – the very thought of it – visibly turned his stomach. I would have had the same reaction not two weeks before I’d done it.  

The next big purge was when we dispersed our worldly possessions in preparation for this upcoming travel. I sold some more at our garage sale, but donated most of them. I gave my dozens of sailing books to Jimmy Sones, a friend who also nurtures a dream of one day sailing over the horizon. The rest that I really treasured I put in a cargo trailer and drove out to my son, Adam, also a reader, in Minnesota. He put them on the bookshelves that I gave him, which were made by his grandfather as his high school woodworking project back in the early 50s. My dad’s shelves were much better made than mine, and of the two (mine went a long, long time ago), I’m glad I kept his around for such a suitable family heirloom moment.  

So, at this point, I am essentially bookless. Aside from a few wilderness medicine books, survival manuals and some guidebooks, I have only a handful, most written by friends.  

This is a very strange place to be for a kid who read, on average, at least four books a week for most of my childhood.  

So, I need your help. I need your “take to the desert island” list of books so I can stock up for these travels.  

When I asked Lee for his list he ended up spending over nine hours on it (see it here: Doug’s Book List ), which I guess is about what I would have invested if someone would have asked me this question prior to the Great Book Purge.  

You, on the other hand, do not need to invest that much time or energy.  

The expedition vehicle we ended up with is not a 53’, 35,000 lb. cruising sailboat. It isn’t all that big and is already at the limit on weight. Consequently, we don’t have a lot of capacity for me to drag along books. So, your list can, and needs to be, short.  

If you could only take a backpack full, what books would you take to a desert island?  

Be well,Doug