If You Were On a Deserted Island…

One of the hardest questions you could ask me is the ubiquitous “If you were on a deserted island and could only have (x) number of books and/or albums and/or films, which would you pick?”

First off, I’ve always felt the question itself (or others like it) are closer to Buddhist koans than what they really are: idle, consumerist rhetoric. A koan is intended to divert the individual’s mind from overly-rational thought – one of the most common examples being the question “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”. The point is not to take it literally (i.e. provide an answer), but to allow the unexpected nature of the predicament to unearth a more creative, less predictable perspective on one’s inner and outer life.

Getting back to the “deserted island”, it’s not hard to see the comparison, particularly when electrically-powered audio/visual equipment needs to be installed on said “island”. Is there a company which specializes in such installations? How expensive is the shipping? Furthermore, I’m assuming there’s food on the island – that would be good, lest the subject, after starving for several hours and unable to drink sea water, begins to munch on their precious copy of Mann’s “Death in Venice”.

Let’s go further, exploring the impossibility of the question. If I was on a deserted island with, let’s say, only 5 books, I would probably lose my mind very quickly. The reason being that the 5 books we pick are based on what we’ve read within the comfort of more controlled circumstances. Can you imagine being stuck on an island with a stack of books written by Dickens and Shakespeare – tell me ye olde language wouldn’t grate after a while? What if you were only kidding yourself about them – pressured by peers, no doubt – then what? A stack of books you can’t stand but are forced to read? You might as well skip the island and go to university. But why only fiction? I’d sure like a moment – and a deserted island sounds perfect – to learn the basics of electricity; unfortunately, assuming all I have is a palm tree, it’s unlikely that I will be able to do much in the way of experimenting, and I’m the type who needs to get his hands dirty in order to understand things.

I come to the conclusion that, unless you are asking me the question in order to develop my non-rational consciousness, I must insist, despite whatever books, albums, movies, or magically-transported reruns of sports games I pick, that one thing be added to the stack without question: a pistol with a single bullet in the chamber.

How’s that for an answer?


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