The Sound of the Crowd

Desert Island Books

This is derived from a newsgroup post I made in 1999 (thank you, Google Groups archive) and updated from my 2005 perspective:

Okay, limiting myself for the sake of argument only to books I currently own, and chosing also only single volume works:

(In, as they say, no particular order)

The complete Pelican Shakespeare. The plays, the sonnets, write-ups putting them in historical context.

(2005: Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking. I may have been being a bit of a snob. Let’s replace that with Judith and Neil Morgan’s life of Dr. Suess, shall we?)

The Hobbit. Both for the sheer pleasure of reading it aloud, and because I have the cool edition with illustrations from the Rankin/Bass special, including many scenes not in the TV film.

(2005: Yeah, I’ll still go with that.)

The Essential Ellison. I’d miss a lot of the books pubished in the late 80’s

and 90’s, but this retrospective from ‘87, the size of a small roast, is the

one to have if I can have only one.

(2005: Not to sound like the professor from Futurama, but, good news! A new edition was published that includes selections from those late ’80s/early ’90s books, so more than ever, this is the one to have if I can have only one by one of my favorte writers.)

Concrete: Complete Short Sories, 86-89 (Chadwick). This was one of the harder ones to narrow down to one, but I think this’ll do it.

(2005: Chadwick is one of my favorite comics creators, but today, if I were going to take any comic book, however elegant, to this magical desert island? I would have to cheat and count the entire Sandman series as one “volume.” Because it’s so good, not because I’m going for the “sand” joke, BTW.)

Art & Love: An Illustrated Anthology of Love Poetry, put out by the Met Museum of Art. 150 poets matched with pieces from the musem. It’s where I found, among other things, the cummings poem from which my first play took it’s original title.

(2005: Absolutely. One of the best purchases I ever made.)

Profiles (Tynan) Another hard winnowing job, but this acts as sort of a “Best of Tynan.”

(2005: I think I might have to replace this with “Tynan Right & Left.” At the very least, I would need to tuck in a xeroxed copy of its foreword: The best three-page summation of what it is like to be a writer (or at least this writer) that I have ever seen.)

New stories from The Twilight Zone. A brilliant anthology of stories adapted for the equally brilliant mid-80’s revival, including gems from Ellison, William M. Lee, William F. Wu, Ted Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg, Greg Bear, Roger Zelazny, & Parke Godwin.

(2005: It is a great anthology, and I was glad to see the series released on DVD, but I’m not sure I need this any more. Shall we say Howard Cruise’s Wendell on the Rebound instead?)

Penn & Teller’s How to Play w/Your Food. Because it’s their best book, even if the first edition did contain a sugar packet with poison in it.

(2005: Nah, I’ve gotten over my Penn & Teller hero worship. This one gets its slot replaced by Peanuts: A Golden Celebration)

Usagi Yojimbo (Sakai). Another poser. Probably my favorite comic book of the moment (Since Paul isn’t doing Concrete right now, and with Sin City and maybe Astro City breathing down the rabbit’s neck), but the question is: Which collection to take? Book Five, “Blood Wings,” is a favorite, but the Eisner-winning “Grasscutter,” will be the longest collection to date. Or I could put my hopes on a future collection containing the recent, wonderful “Inspector” stories. Heck with it: A Usagi Yojimbo collection to be named later.

(2005: See Concrete entry. But I think if I were to take a Usagi collection, I’d stick with “Blood Wings.”)

Dreams of Long Lasting (Medoff). I quote from the back cover: “An aspiring young playwright locked in a self-destructive struggle between the demons of his past and his fear of the future: Between his lust for fame and fortune and his desire to become a decent, compassionate man.”

Draw your own conclusions. There’s lots of sex, too.

(2005: This is still really good, but I might replace it today with something by William Goldman, either nonfiction–“Which Lie Did I Tell?”– or a novel–“The Color of Light.”)

From the Teeth of Angels (Jonathan Carroll). Carroll is one of those “If you’re not reading him, why not?” writers for me. If you percieve of Neil Gaiman or Stephen King or Harlan Ellison as knowing anything about good writing, you should know they (As many others) go nuts for Mr. Carroll. His specialty is the setting up of an anything-but-bland but always belivable reality-and then introducing one twist of that reality…

Personal note: When I discovered Carroll, I was so knocked out that I read five of his books in one week. At the end of that week, I discovered that he would be speaking and signing at the new bookstore across the street from the used one where I worked. Some signs (And signings!) you don’t ignore.

My copy of his then-new book, After Silence, is signed “To Ben, who’s read five already…”

(2005: Everything I said about how good Carroll is still stands, but I think if I were choosing one now I’d go with “Child Across The Sky.” It’s the one I still find myself thinking about the most, some x-number of years after I read it.)

High Fidelity.

(2005: I still like this book very much, so much that I have not seen, and will not, the John Cusack movie adaptation, but I don’t think it needs to be on this list any more. Let’s go with John Irving’s “World According to Garp” instead. Speaking of books about what it’s like to be a writer…)

Laughing Matters (Gelbart). Because I have come to the conclusion that anything funny done on screen or stage in the past 57 years can be connected in six steps or less to Mr. Gelbart.

(2005: Mr. Gelbart remains a hero, but I hope he won’t resent his spot being taken by Jim Kirkwood’s “Good Times/Bad Times”)

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