My 10 Favorite Books: Marlon James


Marlon James for The New York Times.

For his bookshop and website One Grand Books, the editor Aaron Hicklin asked people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were marooned on a desert island. The next in the series is the author Marlon James, who shares his list exclusively with T. (Through May 22, One Grand is hosting a pop-up shop at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.)

“Summer Lightning and Other Stories,” Olive Senior

Because she taught me everything about matching devastation with economy. The entire future of Caribbean prose is mapped out in this collection of stories, and I don’t know a single Caribbean writer who doesn’t reread it often.

“The Master and Margarita,” Mikhail Bulgakov

Nude vampires, gun-toting talking black cat, and devil as ultimate party starter aside, the miracle of this novel is that every time you read it, it’s a different book.

“Shame,” Salman Rushdie

What Kafka gave Marquez — permission to write — “Shame” did for me. And like all electrifying experiences, at first it was just the shock that such things could be done with novels, that got to me.

“Song of Solomon,” Toni Morrison

Three-quarters of the way in, and “SOS” is merely one of the three best books I’ve ever read. But the last 60 pages are one of the most astonishing feats of writing I’ve ever read. I remember reading it standing up, almost in this fever, and so thoroughly believing the ending that I almost jumped off my balcony.

“Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Austen

Because nobody has ever been slyer with characters than Austen. It still blows my mind that her unsavory and unfortunate characters — Mrs. Bennett, Lady Catherine, Charlotte — are the only ones who truly know what time it is.

“Tom Jones,” Henry Fielding

First book I ever read for school that I was sad to see end. Best plot of all time? Maybe not, but too close to the top to merit serious argument.

“Dogeaters,” Jessica Hagedorn

Possible the most brutally, hilariously accurate portrait of post-colonial Jamaica I’ve ever read. And it’s a novel about the Philippines.

“The Autumn of The Patriarch,” Gabriel García Márquez

Picking a Márquez novel is a near impossible task. It’s too easy to just go with the obvious choice(s). But this is his most daring novel, and the labyrinthine twists and turns of each sentence demands undivided attention — so perfect for a desert island, then.

“Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories,” Gilbert Hernandez

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person to realize that the collected Palomar stories, from one half of Los Bros Hernandez, adds up to the finest American novel of the past 30 years?

“Epic Traditions of Africa,” Stephen Belcher

Grimm’s Fairytales are great, the Icelandic sagas are essential and I’m always here for Grendel. But sometimes you want to read about the Cannibal Witch, unborn children who leave the womb at night to hunt for food and Son Jara, the original Lion King.

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