Castaway Culture … on my Desert Island


If you were cast away on a Desert Island, what books or music would you want with you? This month Karen Filipkowski, CEO Madawaska Valley Public Library, reveals her Desert Island picks.

My idea of a perfect getaway is a cabin in the woods, a stack of books, and a supply of good dark roasted coffee (although coffee could also be substituted or interchanged with a bold red). With that in mind, when asked what literature or music I would take to a desert island I referred to my stack of books in the cabin.

First from the stack would be The Divine Ryans by Wayne Johnston, who is perhaps more notable for his books A Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Navigator of New YorkThe Divine Ryans is set in St. John’s Newfoundland and told through the eyes of a young boy, Draper Doyle. After the death of his father, Draper, his mother and sister live with their father’s eccentric family in the family owned funeral home. The story of a child’s loss and struggle is woven with strong characters, some of whom inject needed humour into a sad situation.  Draper develops a bond with his reclusive Uncle Reg who lives in the attic of the family abode and who provides much of the humour for the story. Leftover sweets from “viewings” were referred to by Uncle Reg as “the spooky cookies”.

A truly fun quirky book, Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant is an entertaining read. Come Thou Tortoise is the story of Audrey (Oddly) Flowers who is flying back to Newfoundland because her father is in a coma after being hit by a Christmas tree hanging off the back of a passing truck. Parts of the book are narrated by her tortoise, Winnifred, whom she has left in Portland with friends. If I had known the book would be partly narrated by a tortoise I’m not sure I would have picked it up to read, but it and the wordplays (Audrey refers to her father’s coma as a comma) provide a delightful read.

Filling in some long hours on the island will require some page turners. As mystery or suspense is my preferred genre of page turners I would have to choose between authors Jo Nesbo, Noah Hawley, or another Canadian author Giles Blunt. Nesbo’s books, although they are page turners, has characters who become increasingly dark and terrifying, so I’ll put Nesbo aside in favour of taking Hawley and Blunt. Hawley’s Before the Fall has a contemporary storyline driven by well-developed characters. Giles Blunt’s John Cardinal series is set in a fictional northern Ontario town reminiscent of North Bay. There are six books in the Cardinal series. If Island rules prohibit taking one author and six books I would opt for the first book in the series, Forty Words for Sorrow published in 2000 and hope that there might be fellow islanders with the other titles.

Finally, there’s Mark Crick’s, Kafka’s Soup; A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes. Crick presents fourteen recipes in the voices of famous writers. If you’re a fan of Raymond Chandler, for example, and you like to cook, you’ll love Crick’s recipe for Lamb With Dill Sauce (“I needed a table at Maxim’s, a hundred bucks, and a gorgeous blonde.  What I had was a leg of lamb and no clues”). Crick captures the tone of a range of writers including Jane Austen (who can stretch out the description of Tarragon Eggs more than Austen’s voice), Virginia Wolf, and Irvine Welsh. A caution that Welsh’s Rich Chocolate Cake contains predictably colourful language.

And with this I am set for my Island stay!


  1. Peter Fright

    My perfect getaway at the moment IS a desert island (with all facilities of course), AWAY from the cabin in the woods. Karen’s piece reminded of a long running BBC radio programme called Desert Island Discs, which instead of books, 8 pieces of music are chosen by the ‘celebrity’ being interviewed and the reasons behind the choice. Perhaps a similar model (without the interview) could be included in the Current with contributors (please, no celebs) listing and explaining their choices.

    • The Current

      Well spotted, Peter. Castaway Culture is indeed inspired by the BBC classic, Desert Island Discs. The Current version focuses on Valley residents as our neighbours share their tastes in music, literature and other kinds of culture.

  2. Frances Mawson

    Very amusing. Imagine – if there really were other people to share your cabin in the woods – they would ask to borrow a book, be late returning it, want a suggestion for a followup, leave unusual book marks behind, insist on a book club…it could be just like…..aghhh…!

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