05 November 2011

What books to a desert island?

Ever considered that question? If you were to be abandoned on a desert island, what books would you want with you? One of my favorite historians was faced with exactly that choice.

I came away with no more than half a dozen books in my suitcase -- not knowing, when I left Ganthorpe in August, whether it was for three days or three years, and not packing a heavier load than I could carry myself at a pinch. As it turned out, it may, I suppose, be three years. Among what I did bring were Saint Augustine's Confessions, Pilgrim's Progress, Saint Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Imitatio Christi.
Arnold J. Toynbee to Father Columba Cary-Elwes, monk of Ampleforth. 19 October 1939, shortly after he left his home to do war work at the start of World War II.

Neither he nor anyone else knew how long the war would last nor how destructive it would be. He and his correspondent judged the war would be a disaster for Western society if it lasted for as long as three years. It lasted for twice three years.

You might wonder why he didn't just take the Bible. He'd memorized it when a kid. I am listening to Confessions on my commute. It's complex on many levels. Don't share his enthusiasm for Pilgrim's Progress though I once listened to a recorded version by John Gilgud which by itself was almost a religious experience. Toynbee was, of course, absolutely right about the Book of Common Prayer. I should start reading it again daily.

or maybe not. I am already reading 4-6 pages of Study of History almost every day.

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