WHAT BOOK would novelist Maggie Shipstead take to a desert island?
. . . are you reading now?
A book that will come out in March next year by a friend of mine, Brandon Presser, who’s a highly accomplished travel writer. It’s called The Far Land: 200 Years Of Murder, Mania And Mutiny In The South Pacific, and it intertwines the history of Pitcairn Island and the mutiny on the Bounty, with an account of the months Brandon spent there in 2018.
It hits a lot of my pleasure centres: remote islands, then-and-now non-fiction, historical mysteries and forthright travelogues.
The first night I started reading, I dreamed about Pitcairn Island.
Novelist Maggie Shipstead (pictured), would take War And Peace to a desert island
. . . would you take on a desert island?
My editor has been after me to read War And Peace for ages, and I genuinely want to because I like long books and Russian books and long, Russian books. I have no excuse for not having read it already. And, as has been observed, War And Peace is quite long and would keep me busy for a while, so a desert island seems like the ideal reading opportunity.
. . . first gave you the reading bug?
When I was about six, my mum read a children’s novel called All-of-a-Kind Family aloud to me. It’s by Sydney Taylor and was published in 1951 but is set in 1912 on the Lower East Side of New York City.
The story is a fairly loose series of vignettes about a Jewish family with five young daughters.
I think I’d read one or two other ‘chapter books’ by then, but this was the one I remember really wanting to re-read by myself after hearing it aloud, so that I could have that solitary, luxurious, one-on-one connection with it.
I remember being drawn to the warmth of Taylor’s portrait of family life and also intrigued by the specificity of the era and setting. The little girls in the book led lives very different from mine, but I could still imagine them and feel the life in them.
. . . left you cold?
Is it annoying to interpret this question as being about cold as in temperature? Oh well! I loved The Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson, an account of the Swedish explorer S. A. Andrée’s 1897 attempt to reach the North Pole by hot air balloon.
It should come as no surprise that the expedition ended tragically, but Wilkinson treats his subject with great empathy and curiosity, using Andrée’s story as a lens on the sometimes perplexing motivations of explorers and on the incredible harshness of the polar environment. (But also, I hated J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye.)
Maggie Shipstead’S Booker-shortlisted novel Great Circle is published by Doubleday at £16.99.