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Women Kossacks of a certain age will remember reading such magazines as Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and others of that ilk before they grew older and more enlightened. A question occasionally posed to celebrities was, “If you could take only one cosmetic with you to a desert island, what would it be?”

Only an imbecile could conceive such a question, ask it with a straight face, and turn it into a magazine article. In the first place, what is a “desert island”?  An island by its very nature is surrounded by…water!  So where does the “desert” come in?

Secondly, anyone with a measurable IQ would be far more concerned with filling basic needs for shelter, food, water, and fire than with her appearance. I mean, even if she had her favorite cosmetic with her, who would there be to appreciate her use of it?

I’d like to ask a somewhat more intelligent theoretical question. Suppose the airplane in which you’re a passenger suffers engine trouble and it is unfortunately necessary to parachute down to this theoretical island. Suppose also you had the foresight to know that such a scenario would occur, so in your flight suit you’ve packed a book that will entertain you for years.  What would it be?

Diverting myself with this mental toy, I could think of only two books that would satisfy that criterion for me:  the King James version of the Bible, for one.  Here’s a book that has everything--history, genealogy, poetry, erotica, drama, and above all, magnificent Jacobean language. Who can forget such lines as “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!  For in one hour is thy judgment come,” and “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die…”

But I think eventually I’d get tired of it and besides, for me the Bible carries some associations I’d rather not dwell upon.

The other book is the complete works of William Shakespeare. Now, I happen to be a person who celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday every April.  I order a cake, instruct the pastry chef to write an “age-appropriate” message on it, and serve it after dinner. I’m not an expert on the Bard, but I enjoy reading his work.  Here again is a collection that has everything:  poetry, drama, history, and characters that seem to come alive and step off the page.  As well, there are a couple of epic poems such as "The Rape of Lucrece" and "Venus and Adonis," along with the sonnets:  I dote on the sonnets. Let me say here and now I heartily thank Master Shakespeare for coming up with the Shakespeare rhyme scheme for sonnets—it’s much easier than the Petrarchan!

So that’s my choice of book.  Now tell me—what would yours be, and why?  We’ve passed the talking-stick into your hands, and we’re listening as you begin to speak. We’re agog to hear what you have to say!

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

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