Welcome to Desert Island Books, a weekly series where I speak to authors, writers and journalists about the eight books they’d take with them to a desert island and why.
This week, my guest is American author, Daisy Alpert Florin. Daisy attended Dartmouth College and received graduate degrees from Columbia University and Bank Street Graduate School of Education. She is a recipient of the 2016 Kathryn Gurfein Writing Fellowship at Sarah Lawrence College and was a 2019–20 fellow in the BookEnds novel revision fellowship, where she worked with founding director Susan Scarf Merrell. A native New Yorker, Daisy lives in Connecticut with her family.
Room by Emma Donoghue
When I first read Room, my daughter was the same age as Jack, Donoghue’s young narrator who has spent his entire life imprisoned in one room, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would mean to have spent every moment of my life as a mother trapped in one small room. This is one of those books I wish I could read again for the first time. Unforgettable.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast
New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s graphic novel about the lives and deaths of her parents is so much more than a comic. Chast explores her parents’ histories and her own childhood before diving deep into the final years of her parents’ lives, years that dragged on and for which no one was prepared. This is the rare book that makes you laugh and cry, often simultaneously, and offers a brutally honest look at the many ways people avoid facing the hardest truth about life: that it ends.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
I couldn’t write a novel about class, money and forbidden love without thinking of The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about love and duty set in old New York. Like the protagonist of my novel, My Last Innocent Year, I once wrote a thesis about Wharton, and it was fun to explore the ways in which her themes might play out on a college campus in the 1990s. There is always something new to uncover in Wharton’s work, and I consider this novel pretty much perfect. It also has one of the sexiest scenes in all of literature: when Newland Archer unbuttons Ellen’s glove and tenderly kisses the inside of her wrist. HOT.
The Paper Anniversary by Joan Wickersham
I’m delighted to bring attention to this novel, which I read soon after graduating from college. Jack and Maisie are newlyweds, about to celebrate their “paper anniversary,” and things are not going well. Jack has moved home to Maine to take over his family’s French fry factory after his father’s death while Maisie chooses to stay in New York. When I read it, I had recently left a college boyfriend, and I think I thought it would tell me if we should get back together (we didn’t). Wickersham’s novel was a great comfort to me at the time, a reminder that being an adult didn’t mean you had all the answers.
Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems
There are 25 titles in this series, which might be too many to bring to a desert island, but I’d argue they’re worth it. Mo Willems’s brilliant series of early readers featuring Gerald the elephant and his friend Piggie are a master class in compression, offering pitch perfect characterization, rhythm and comic timing in books designed for early readers. My kids adored these books when they were little. They’re teenagers now, but we still have every single one.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The campus novel against which all others are compared. I first read Prep when I was ten years out of college, but I still identified deeply with Lee Fiora, Sittenfeld’s lovably imperfect high school-age heroine. Craft-wise, Sittenfeld is a master, and her willingness to place her characters in difficult and unflattering situations, always with purpose and tenderness, is inspiring. The deliciously awkward sex scenes, most taking place on flimsy dorm room mattresses, are worth the price of admission alone.
Interpreter of Maladiesby Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri is the rare writer whose work I read without fail. Her stories transcend culture and speak to anyone who has felt far from home, be it across town or across oceans, and if I were indeed stranded on a desert isle, hers is the voice I would want by my side. I could read her cool, elegant prose forever.
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Growing up, my father was my primary literary influence, introducing me to the many postwar American writers who had inspired him—Updike, Mailer, Malamud and, of course, Philip Roth. If I had to pick one of Roth’s books, it would be American Pastoral, which made a deep impression on me when I first read it in the late 1990s. Roth’s depiction of postwar Jewish life reminds me of my own family’s history and the ways in which the past is always at our heels.