Mr Cullenbrooke’s Desert Island Reads

The Complete Works of Shakespeare

Let’s get this one out of the way early. There is no way that any self-respecting reader would even contemplate hanging out on a Desert island without this essential companion. I’ve read a number of Shakespeare’s plays and seen film and stage productions of others, but there’s plenty more treasure to be discovered in the pages of this desert-island companion.

A History of The World in 10 ½ Chapters by Julian Barnes

I absolutely loved reading this book as a teenager. It was, like many of the best and most important works of literature (and music) which have had a profound impact on my life, recommended to me by my big sister. I loved the eclectic feel of Barnes’ interesting and thought-provoking snippets of history and despite it being more than 15 years since I read it, I still vividly remember its chapters and character. It’s a book I’ve always wanted to go back to to read again (and again) and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it over and over.

To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

What an incredible book this is. Just thinking about it makes me feel a big swell of happiness and hope and sadness and love. My mother, who was an English teacher (and another great recommender of fantastic fiction), gave it to me to read when I was about 12 and I distinctly remember the metaphor of the mockingbird revealing itself to me in different forms as I made my way through the book, and how much this blew my mind. It made a great impression on me and I would heartily recommend it to anyone and everyone. If you haven’t read it, you should put it next on your list!

1984 by George Orwell

Orwell is one of my favourite writers and 1984 is one of my favourite novels. There are lots of different components to it that set your imagination off in many different directions; it’s certainly very thought-provoking. Whether you’re imagining yourself in this dystopic future, contemplating the consequences of continual world-wide war, learning about the art of propaganda and the value of the truth, questioning the nature of language when exposed doublethink and doublespeak, or studying the book within the book… there’s so much to contemplate and consider that shines a light on modern society and its various imperfections and injustices. I take a real pleasure in recommending this book to students, and I always buy copies of it in charity shops when I see it to give away to people.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This beautiful book is poignant, poetic and powerful. It’s so evocative, both of the setting (a small town in Kerala, India) and of the feelings that accompany childhood and family, and the difficulties of understanding oneself and the injustices of the small details of life. Just writing this paragraph makes me want to read it again and be transported back to the emotions the book stir in the reader. I read this book when I was in secondary school, and I remember being struck by the fact that it had only been written very recently. I think before then I had an impression that all great fiction was old fiction, and that if it hadn’t been written a long time ago by an established and recognised writer then it probably wasn’t worth reading… but this wonderful novel was a debut, and it opened by eyes to new sources of great literature and contemporary fiction. What’s more, as winner of The Booker Prize, it prompted me go back and read other Booker Prize winners from other years, and I’ve found some real gems on that list. I bought this book for my wife for her 19th birthday (she was my girlfriend back then) so this book would remind me of her on the desert Island, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing, either

La casa de los espíritus de Isabella Allende

I read a couple of Allende’s novels, translated into English, when I visited her native Chile back in 2010. I found them to be beguiling, intriguing and strange, and I learned a lot about the country and its people from her books. Since that trip I’ve always sought out works of fiction that link to the places I visit. I’ve been meaning to read The House of The Spirits ever since that trip, but haven’t found or made the time to, and it would be great to have something to read on the Island that I’d never read before. What a treat that would be! But I also want to use this as an opportunity to improve my Spanish skills, so I’d bring this book written in Allende’s original language, and if Ms. Harrison lets me, I’d have an English translation of it there in emergencies for when there was vocabulary I didn’t understand. That way I’d get to read a fantastic novel and learn a new language at the same time.

The Art Of The Glimpse by Sinead Gleeson

My mother-in-law bought a copy of this anthology of 100 short stories by Irish writers for me and my wife as a Christmas present this year. She also bought a copy of it for herself, with the intention that we could read the stories along with each other as a shared experience. The stories are compiled from a wide range of contributors, and is described by the curator as a radical revision of the Irish cannon, giving a voice to marginalised writers and shining a light on the dark and dusty corners of Irish culture, history and politics whilst celebrating its rich literary tradition. My Irish heritage is an important part of my identity and the idea of reading the diverse tales of these writers, then discussing and responding to them sounds like a fantastic way to pass the time. So if I had to go solo to the desert Island, I’d enjoy the process of reading these varied tales, whilst knowing that back at home my loved ones might be reading them too. This book would help be to stay in touch with my heritage and my family, whilst also giving be a good bit of entertainment along the way.

The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide To the Laws of The Universe by Roger Penros

This book has been recommended to me by a number of Physics pals as being a thoroughly fantastic description of the major features of the fundamental laws of nature and a great place to buff up on your knowledge of a mathematical treatment of Physical law. It would be a very long and challenging read, and I’d need a pen and pencil nearby to work through some of the mathematics I studied (and have since forgotten) at university to make full sense of it… which would make it the perfect desert island read as I’d have plenty of time on my hands to read and understand it, and even more time to gaze up at the stars thinking about the Universe and my place on a tiny little island.